A few days later, they had a long weekend due to a teacher work day that fell on a Friday for once. Tony had woken up early, unable to sleep well with all the work on JARVIS that still needed to be done. He knew it would take more than just a few weeks to finish him - if he ever was truly finished, that is - but he couldn't focus on anything but the work. He had been at it for a few hours now, but it was oddly too quiet in his room, even with his usual music playing. He glanced down to his phone that sat next to him and he chewed on his lip as he thought before he finally picked it up and dialed Bruce's number.
Bruce was lying on his stomach on his bed, reading a large book on nuclear physics. He was thrilled to be having a long weekend because it meant he was going to have lots of time to read and learn the things that his school just wasn't teaching him. When he'd lived at home he hadn't had access to all of the information he had now, and he felt like he had a lot to catch up on.
He was interrupted from starting a chapter on fusion by the sound of the dorm phone ringing. He shot up, startled, and almost fell off the bed as he scrambled to pick it up. He brought it to his ear with one hand, the other rubbing his back which had become stiff from lying on the bed all morning.
"You know the other day when we were coming up with all those fantastic ideas? I mean, not yesterday. Or the day before...You know the day I'm talking about." Tony balanced the phone between his shoulder and his ear once Bruce picked up, reaching down to grab circuit board he was fixing again. He didn't bother with a 'hello', figuring Bruce would either know who it was or would work it out quick enough on his own.
"Oh - Tony! Yeah, hi. I remember," Bruce said quickly, holding the phone closer to his ear to catch all of his friend's babbling as his other hand moved to rest on his hip.
"Good memory. I like that. Also, I need you," he replied, not explaining why at first, but he thought about it for a moment and realized Bruce probably would ask.
"Uh, sure, what for?" Bruce asked, glancing around the room before deciding to stare down at his socks. When he was on the phone with someone he was never really sure where to look. He wondered what Tony needed him for, hoping that they were going to work on JARVIS like they had before.
"Well, I'm currently talking to you on the phone. This is a problem. I want to resolve this. Today, hopefully. If not, then over the rest of the weekend." Tony explained.
Bruce pondered what Tony said for a moment, his mouth hanging limp, before it dawned on him.
"Oh! Are we going to work on the phone function for JARVIS?" he asked, a smile forming on his lips. He remembered suggesting something like that on that-day-when-they-first-hung-out-together.
"You got it, buddy. Get here, I'm starting now." Tony said quickly before hanging up and dropping his phone and going back into his work easily, focusing better after hearing Bruce on the other end of the line.
Bruce stared at the phone for a second, a little startled by how quickly Tony had hung up. He figured that Tony was really excited about getting to work so Bruce should get over to his dorm quickly if he didn't want to miss anything. Grabbing his backpack off the hook it hung on, he tossed into it his latest notebook, a calculator, and after a thoughtful pause the book he'd been reading. He toed on his shoes and headed out the door immediately.
When he got to Tony's room he was out of breath from running, but he knocked on the door enthusiastically nonetheless (with the hand that wasn't clutching his chest). "Hey, Tony!"
"Bruce! Get in here!" Tony called when he heard him at the door. He had the main computer open, the parts and pieces around him with no really obvious rhyme or reason to how they were spread out. Tony was in the middle of it all, gloves on his hands to prevent any burning from the soldering and his working goggles around his neck at the moment. He was sitting cross-legged in his work clothes, the ones that had the most oil stains and it looked like he had been up for quite some time already.
"That's another thing, I'm gonna make a sign for that door. 'Bruce, just come the fuck in, you're welcome any time'. Or maybe it should say, 'AIs, Banners, and Starks only. Everyone else gtfo'. Whichever you think would work best."
Bruce opened the door cautiously, not sure what would be waiting for him on the other side. He looked around at the mess of parts on the floor with curiosity and then fixed his gaze on Tony, engrossed in his work, all messy hair and soldering gear and oil stains. Bruce entered the room with a small smile as Tony explained his plans for a sign.
"I think just knowing I'm always welcome is enough. Like you said, I have a good memory," he chuckled. It still amazed him how fast Tony had taken to him. He'd never felt more welcome in his life.
"Good. Now, I know you said you're not much of an engineer, but I think you're gonna be able to help me out with this a lot," Tony didn't look up from his work, twisting his arm up to get a wire in the perfect spot and soldering it in place easily.
"I did say that, but I'm also a pretty quick learner," Bruce replied with a shrug and an earnest grin.
Tony pulled back with a grin and turned to face Bruce finally, wiping an arm over his forehead.
"Hey, good to see you," he said after a moment's pause, figuring he'd be polite for a few moments before launching back into the work.
Bruce placed his backpack on the ground by the door as he had last time, standing up just in time to hear Tony's late greeting. "Good to see you, too, Tony," he responded, running a hand through his hair a little shyly.
Tony smiled softly for a moment before gesturing for Bruce to sit on his bed behind him so that he got a good view and was still close. He wiped his forehead again, machine oil spreading across his skin as he wiped. He wasn't using it so much now as he was earlier, but it was still everywhere.
"Alright, so I'm not going to use technical terms because, ew, no, it's morning and you don't need to know them for what we're doing anyways. But! I'm going to need your help with holding things in place, some coding later on, and then a bit of a physical activity, but it's fun so don't even worry about it. It's all part of the work."
Bruce left his shoes with his backpack and headed toward the bed as Tony had directed.
"Sounds fine to me," he said as he tiptoed around the various computer parts on the floor until he could pull himself up on the bed. He sat leaning forward to watch with his feet dangling off the side by Tony.
"Great. Well, right now I just need to focus on this and my music isn't helping, so tell me what you did since I last saw you, what, yesterday afternoon?" Tony was glad to feel his presence behind him on his bed, able to focus a lot better with him there. He wasn't usually one for human interaction, but Bruce was different. Bruce helped him focus even just from being there.
Bruce watched Tony closely as he worked, trying and failing to think of something interesting to say.
"...I've just been reading," Bruce told Tony sheepishly, "Not the most exciting thing in the world, but I enjoy it."
He shrugged to himself, knowing Tony probably couldn't see him, and swung his feet a little, making sure not to knock them into anything.
"No, reading's good. What were you reading? Hold this," Tony reached back and handed him the soldering iron before reaching in to twist a few things around.
Bruce carefully took the soldering iron from Tony, holding it at a safe distance from the rest of his body. He glanced over at his backpack by the door as he explained, "It's a huge volume on nuclear physics. The most up-to-date one there is. It weighs like ten pounds, and it's got maybe double that number in chapters."
"Nuclear physics? I might've had that one out from the library last month. Check if my name's in the front when you can," Tony replied. "Shit, that's gonna need to be moved. Here." He reached back and took the soldering iron from him again and leaned forward to put it down on the stand a few feet away.
"Reach over my shoulder and hold onto that right there. Don't move it, I gotta change something," he said with a gesture to the wire he was holding in place.
It pleased Bruce to hear that Tony shared his interest in physics, but he didn’t have much time to think about it before Tony requested his assistance. Bruce got down on his knees behind Tony, deciding he'd be of more use now if he was closer. Leaning over Tony's shoulder, he held the wire in place and waited for Tony to do whatever he was going to do. Up close, Tony smelled vaguely like sweat from the heat of the soldering iron, but Bruce didn't mind.
As soon as Bruce grabbed the wire, Tony moved and reached down for a pair of pliers, reaching in and moving a circuit board over to be closer to where he needed it to be. He put it in place and adjusted a few things around it before he took the wire from Bruce again and connected it. He smiled when it was placed and looked back to Bruce over his shoulder.
"Fantastic. What else were you planning for this weekend?"
Bruce withdrew once the wire was connected and sat back on his heels, running a hand through his hair in thought. "Nothing, really," he told Tony sheepishly, "Just reading."
"Really? I mean, cool, yeah, reading's great but c'mon, Banner. The whole weekend?" he asked as he turned and looked around for the microphone he needed to install.
"I don't really have much else to do. You're kinda... My only friend," Bruce mumbled, leaning back against the bed and crossing his arms over his chest.
Tony paused and turned around to look at him again, quiet for a moment as he took in his stance against the bed. Arms crossed, mumbled words, averted eyes. "Yeah? Well...You're my only friend too, actually."
Bruce looked at Tony with genuine surprise. "Really? I thought you would have more friends, because you're so..."
Bruce waved his hand in the air, gesturing to nothing in particular as he thought of which word to put at the end of that sentence. Smart? Fun? Cool?
"...Outgoing," he finished dully.
Tony laughed softly at Bruce's choice of words and he shook his head. "No, not really. I mean, at first people wanted to be friendly because I'm a Stark. But then everyone kind of realized that I'm really fucking annoying and I'm apparently really hard to be around because I'm Tony, not just Anthony Edward Stark."
"I don't think you're annoying," Bruce replied before realizing how dumb that sounded. Of course he didn't find Tony annoying, or else he wouldn't be here. He pushed his glasses into his nose to try and disguise the blush creeping onto his face. He really needed to practice his social skills, but that was pretty hard to do with only one friend.
"Thanks, but I think I'll ask again by the end of the weekend to see if you've changed your mind yet," Tony countered with a small smile. There had been a few people in the past who had tried - actually tried - to be his friend, but they never lasted longer than a week, and they still rarely knew what he was talking about. He hoped that Bruce would be different.
Bruce gave him a small smile in return, shrugging. "Well, so far you're the only one who's made an effort on me. And since I don't think anyone else in this school would say that a book on nuclear physics sounds interesting, let alone read it, I guess we can assume that I'm not gonna leave you anytime soon."
Bruce really really hoped Tony didn't start pissing him off, and he really couldn't even think of any way that he could. So far they had gotten along flawlessly.
"Yeah...I mean, you're right. We're kind of perfect friends so far. Which is amazing." Tony nodded and looked down and found the microphone he had been looking for. "I'll still ask at the end of the weekend, though."
"Alright. You do that," Bruce laughed, soft and short. Tony was right. They seemed pretty perfect.
"Will do then," Tony grinned and turned back around to keep working, immediately immersing himself in the work again.
Bruce lifted himself back onto the bed, watching Tony work. He thought about what Tony had said - that people wanted to be friends with him only because he was a Stark. He hoped Tony knew that Bruce would never use him like that, for popularity or money or power. He hated the idea that someone would. As he'd been thinking before, he thought Tony was really cool. He was smart in a way that no one else Bruce had ever met was and he was the only one who'd taken a chance on the shy kid. He couldn't understand why his other friends had abandoned him. Maybe Bruce would find out by the end of the weekend - or maybe he'd discover that he and Tony really were perfect friends.
With Bruce back up on the bed and both of them quiet for a few moments, Tony reached over to his stereo and turned up the music a bit, his head nodding along with the beat. It wasn't up too loud, but just enough to help him focus. The combination of music and Bruce's presence behind him made it ten thousand times easier for him to focus. He got the microphone installed quickly and he decided to stretch out for a minute, laying back and smiling up at Bruce from the floor.
While Tony finished with the microphone, Bruce repositioned himself on the bed, scooting back to lie on his stomach and rest his chin on his crossed arms. He bobbed his head with the music for a while, and when Tony looked up at him he propped himself up on his elbows, smiling, and asked, "What's next?"
"Well, I'm actually done with all the wiring in and hands on stuff, but I still have to do all the coding and a few updates," Tony explained, tapping his fingers on the floor to the music that still played around them.
"If there's any way that I can help, I'd be happy to," Bruce assured him, still bobbing his head with Tony. As an afterthought, he asked, "What song is this?"
"I'll keep that in mind," Tony said with a grin. "It's Back in Black. AC/DC. It helps me think, any of their stuff does. Most music does, actually. Except for like, classical or whatever. I can't listen to that while I work. Just doesn't help."
Bruce wouldn't have pegged this loud, clashy rock music to be helpful while working, but he supposed it was an acquired taste. Maybe Tony had heard each song so many times that he was used to the sudden guitar riffs that would have startled Bruce out of a book. Maybe, if Tony kept inviting him over like this, it would become routine for him too.
"It's good. I just usually work in silence," Bruce explained.
"I used to try to work in silence, especially at home, but I would always get super distracted and never get any work done. The music is like a constant distraction itself, so it balances things out and gets me both distracted and focused. If that makes any sense," Tony shrugged and smiled lopsidedly.
Bruce shrugged. "What works for you, works for you."
He was quiet for a moment, thinking of his choice to work in silence. He knew why he did it. When he lived at home, his house was full of shouting, fighting, things being thrown and broken. He was always trying to escape from that, and so whenever he could, he ran away to a library or quiet park or even his own closet and buried himself in a book, reveling in the silence of being alone. Silence was his sanctuary.
Of course, Tony didn't need to know any of this.
It really was the opposite situation for Tony at home, even without either of them knowing it. His father required silence, much like Bruce, when he worked, and Tony could never stand it. His mother was quiet as well, and he didn't mind so much when she would ask him to turn the music down, but when his father would throw his door open and demand he turn it down, it just made him want to turn it up louder. He loved his father, but there was no pleasing him, so why should Tony do anything he asked? His father didn't even like him.
"Well, I guess I should start the coding. You know anything about coding?"
"Umm..." Bruce wished he could say yes, but when he'd gone to the library to look around the other day all the good books about coding had been checked out, (most likely by Tony himself), and Bruce had opted for the nuclear physics book instead. After his first day of hanging out with Tony he'd developed an interest in coding enough to want to learn more, if only to help Tony out, but, alas, he still knew very little.
“...Not too much."
"Alright. Question really is: you wanna learn?" Tony asked. He grinned over his shoulder before he turned and put the cover back on the computer and closed it up, turning it around and switching it on again.
"I'd love to," Bruce replied genuinely, grinning back at Tony. He sat up and slid off the bed to sit cross-legged next to Tony now that there weren't computer pieces everywhere.
"Great. It's not too terribly hard to get the hang of. You just gotta learn the language," Tony said, turning the monitor so they could both see the screen. He typed in a line of code and pointed out to Bruce what each piece of it meant, explaining it bit by bit and stopping every now and then to see if there needed to be any clarification.
"Get it? At least, you know, basic stuff? There's a bit more to it, but..."
"I get it," Bruce said when Tony prompted him. He was a fast learner - a sponge for information, if you will. As Tony explained each fragment of the code, Bruce immediately committed it to memory. He was learning even faster than he usually did - maybe that was due to the enthusiasm that Tony injected into every sentence, a telltale sign that he actually cared about what he was saying and that he really wanted Bruce to learn it. It was so unlike the dry voices of the teachers at their school, and all the more easy to absorb.
"I might need a few reminders here and there but I think I've got it."
"Great. You really are a fast learner. I like that. You wanna try it on your own for a bit? I mean, I'll be here if you get stuck or don't know what to add, but I think you can do it pretty well." Tony shifted to let Bruce sit in front of the computer and he smiled, completely trusting him. To Tony, this was almost as if he was placing his life in Bruce's hands, since JARVIS and the coding for him was pretty much his life's work at this point. But he had complete faith in him.
"Wait, you want me to work directly on JARVIS?" Bruce asked, realizing with a flash of fear how important this was. He bit his lip and looked back at Tony, his confidence suddenly shaken as his fingers trembled over the keyboard. He fell into mumbling: "I thought... Maybe I could do some test runs first... Are you sure?"
"Yeah, Bruce. I'm sure. I mean, I'm right here, you've got the gist of it, and I have total faith in you," he said with a smile. He reached forward and placed a comforting hand on Bruce's shoulder and looked directly into his eyes. "I trust you. I believe in you too, okay? Seriously, it's all gonna be fine. I promise."
When he stared into Tony's big brown eyes he believed without a doubt that he had his total trust. With his eyes still locked on Tony's, Bruce swallowed, steeling himself for this daunting task. Then he rubbed his hands together once before hovering them over the keyboard again and beginning to code, his eyes flitting across the screen as he muttered what he was typing under his breath. He was still nervous, but he had also never been so determined in his life.
Tony leaned back and watched as Bruce worked, smiling when he noticed that he really didn't have anything to worry about. Bruce was either a natural or Tony was a brilliant teacher. Or maybe it was a bit of both. Whatever it was, he didn't find himself needing to correct him very much. He noticed the way he spoke what he typed with no little amount of satisfaction. Tony let him work, even deciding to get up at one point and go over to his mini-fridge to grab them each a soda, setting Bruce's down next to his leg so he wouldn't disturb him.
"Am I doing it right?" Bruce asked when Tony returned with the soda, the sound of it sloshing around in the can distracting him and causing him to pause his stream of coding. He scootched back from the computer a little to give Tony a better view while he popped open the soda and held it to his mouth with both hands.
Tony leaned forward to check it over for a few minutes, reading through from the beginning to make sure it was going right from the start. After a minute of reading, he pulled back and smiled, taking a sip of his own drink as he looked back to Bruce. "Looks great! You're a natural."
Bruce's face flushed again and he shifted the soda to one hand as he pressed his glasses into his nose, turning to look at the computer. "Thanks," he half-mumbled, not used to praise at all. He then looked back at Tony and said, "I wouldn't have been able to do any of that if you hadn't taught me so well."
"Mm, probably not," Tony said with an arrogant grin before he bumped his shoulder with Bruce's out of jest. "No, but really, you're a natural. It looks great. I think I'm gonna add in a few small things that I thought of while you were coding. But you did a great job."
Bruce nodded eagerly. "Yeah, of course." He took another sip of the soda and moved himself further back so Tony had more room to sit and work.
Tony set his drink down next to him and took over at the keyboard again for a few minutes, adding in a few things that he had just thought of, only adjusting a few things that Bruce had put in to fit in with what he added, but after a few more minutes, he pulled his hands away to read it over again, sipping at his drink as he checked it over.
As Tony added things, Bruce watched and tried to comprehend what new functions the coding would provide. He understood each addition without too much difficulty. "How's it look?" he asked Tony when he stopped.
"Looks pretty good, I'd say. Now I just need to set up the updates and let it run through the first round and after that, it's just checking for bugs, fixing anything that might show up, and running more updates until it's finished," he told Bruce with a grin.
"Good." Bruce sat back against the bed and drained the last of the soda out of the can, placing it on the floor next to him. "What should we do in the meantime?"
"Hm, well, we could go terrorize some of the other students, but I doubt that'd be your style. We could do some homework if you've still got some, I finished a while ago, um, there's video games, reading, talking, etc." Tony suggested, even saying et cetera before he downed the last of his soda and picked up both of their empty cans walking over to drop them in his trash can.
Bruce stared at Tony as he was presented with this multitude of options. "Um," he said in reply, opening his mouth blankly for a second before gritting his teeth. He wasn't really good at making decisions. Everything except for the whole terrorizing thing sounded fun.
He scratched his head and looked around the room. "What video games do you have?" He figured they could play and talk at the same time instead of just talking awkwardly or playing in silence, which would also be pretty awkward. And Bruce was like a whole bundle of awkward.
Tony brightened a little at the mention of video games, quickly pulling out a few of his favorites. He had the latest design of the console, having bought it for himself a little over a month ago.
"I've got Pacman, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Space Invaders, Zelda and a few others. Some are two-player, and some are one player, but we can switch off if it's one player," he laid out his games in front of Bruce for him to choose the one that sounded best to him.
"Let's play something two-player," Bruce said as he looked over the games. He wasn't really sure which one to choose, as he'd only ever played by himself at the arcade; he didn't have many toys.
"Alright, sounds good," Tony grabbed up Street Fighter and he put it in, waiting for it to load as he reached over to make sure the updates were running on the computer. Everything looked to be going well, so he handed a controller to Bruce and they started the game. "If you need to know the controls or anything, just let me know. It's pretty easy to get used to. Just try it out first and I'll tell you if there's a move you're missing."
Bruce watched Tony play a single player round before he joined in. It seemed simple enough - punch, kick, combo, win. He picked up the controller and began the fight. At first he was cautious, trying out his moves and practicing combos, but two rounds in he began to ruthlessly kick Tony's butt at the game. He mastered the combo moves very quickly and took Tony down over and over with an aggression that he rarely showed. For Bruce, seeing the tiny character on the screen get pummeled into the ground was a huge stress reliever. He could imagine, like he used to do at the arcade, that each pixellated person he destroyed was one of his real-life problems dissolving away, leaving nothing but enthusiasm and a happy smile.
"Hah!" he exclaimed in triumph as he won yet another round, then he glanced over at Tony and softened a little, telling him, "Oops. I thought we would get to talk while playing this game, but I guess I got a little... into it."
"You're...really good at this game," Tony said with a laugh, setting his controller on his knee to crack his knuckles. He never would have guessed that Bruce would have been so competitive and so good at a game he claimed to have never played before. At least, not multiplayer. Tony grinned at him though, glad to have found out a bit more about his new friend.
“Thanks... I guess I can get kinda carried away,” Bruce admitted with a shrug, reaching one hand up to run it through his hair. He’d never actually played multiplayer games before at all, so this was a fun change. He just worried what would happen if he got really carried away in the game and then lost and yelled at his partner (instead of just kicking the arcade game like he usually did upon losing), which very well could happen if he wasn’t careful. He hated lashing out at people, hated it more than anything, but it happened sometimes and he couldn’t control it. It scared him out of his wits to think that he had a temper that was anything like his father’s. The thought made him feel slightly ill and he contemplated quitting the game while he was ahead. The last thing he wanted to happen was for him to get mad at Tony and push him away so soon after befriending him.
“Hey, it’s fine, we all get a bit competitive. You should see me when I mess up a project. I can get crazy mad.” Tony laughed and stood up from the floor stretching out a bit before going back over to the mini-fridge to grab them each another soda. “I’ll just have to make it a goal of mine to actually beat you at one point!”
Bruce smiled at that, feeling a lot better about himself at the implication that he wasn’t the only one who was prone to getting mad. Tony obviously hadn’t realized it, but he had said exactly the right thing. What Bruce needed to know, craved to know, was that he wasn’t a freak or a monster. Even he could fit in - Tony made him feel like he belonged. He exhaled his anxiety like he had trained himself to and grinned up at Tony when he returned with the sodas. “In that case, want to play a few more rounds? Unless, of course, you’re too scared to lose again,” he teased, in a rare moment of playfulness.
Tony chuckled and sat down next to him again, cross-legged and close to Bruce. He cracked open his soda and took a large gulp before he placed it next to him and picked up his controller again. “No way! I’m up for it. I’m totally gonna beat you too, you jerk.” He shoved the other boy with his shoulder playfully as he set up a new round, still grinning.
“Sure,” Bruce replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes. He popped open his new soda and took a quick swallow from it before grabbing the controller and starting the fight. He easily pounded Tony’s little pixelated character into the ground again and grinned over at his friend triumphantly. “Told you!”
“Shit, you’re really good. Alright, this time for real.” Tony grinned and started another new game, trying his hardest to stay alive, even making his character jump back from Bruce’s a couple times to avoid getting killed.
Bruce saw how valiantly Tony was avoiding the knock-out and resolved, just this once, to let him win. He spotted a moment when he could have made a fatal combo move, but he held his breath and froze his finger above the button. Tony's character kicked his and took the win. He looked over at Tony to see how he would react to finally beating him.
The moment the screen came up to show that Tony had won a round, he laughed and let go of his controller, throwing his hands up in joy. He smiled at Bruce and leaned forward, his hands falling to press against the floor as he grinned at his friend.
"See? I knew I'd win one," He said, not taunting or rubbing it in, just stating a fact. "You're a fantastic and worthy opponent."
Bruce exhaled his trapped breath and smiled back at Tony. He wasn’t going to tell Tony that he’d gone easy on him. Somehow he thought that the happiness on Tony’s face was a better reward than a bunch of pixels on the TV screen forming the words ‘YOU WIN’. Bruce realized that maybe it didn’t really matter who won or lost when he was playing with a friend. This was recreation, not stress-relief.
“Thanks. Good job, Tony,” Bruce replied before taking another sip of soda.
Tony just smiled and lay back against his floor again to reach for the computer to check on the updates. It was over halfway done but it still had quite a bit of time left on it. He hummed softly in thought and looked back over to Bruce.
“We’ve still got time before it’s ready. Wanna play another game and we can talk while we play?” Tony asked with a grin.
“Sure,” Bruce replied. He looked back at the other games and said, “You choose.”
“Hmm,” Tony looked over the games as well, grabbing one that was close to him. “I’m pretty sure Bomberman has a multiplayer thing.” He smiled and shut off the other game to put in the new one.
Bruce watched as the title came up on the screen, running his thumb over the buttons on the controller in his hands. "You're lucky you have all these games," he told Tony, "I've only ever played in the arcade."
“I’ve got a lot of things most people don’t have, actually,” Tony replied. “Mostly because I buy them for myself with the money I have access to from my parents. I mean, sometimes my mom will get me something, but for the most part I’m on my own with that sort of thing.” He shrugged and tilted the controller from hand to hand for a moment.
Bruce figured that Tony would have the money to buy lots of games, considering his father was one of the most rich and famous men on Earth. It must be nice for him, Bruce thought, to be able to get all the things he wants. Well, at least the things that money could buy.
“That’s cool,” Bruce replied. He felt a tiny bit jealous of Tony’s financial freedom (who wouldn’t?), but Bruce was not big on self-pity. Instead, he was grateful that Tony was letting him enjoy the games, too. “Do you buy stuff often?”
“Sometimes, yeah. Not all that often. Just when I really want or need something. I don’t really feel great buying stuff for myself. I like making things instead,” Tony replied with a shrug. He really only bought things for himself like video games to play when he had nothing else to work on or clothes when he needed them and his parents didn’t know that he had ruined another set of good clothes with machine oil.
“You can buy all sorts of machine parts to build with, then,” Bruce reasoned. Then he thought of something really cool. “I bet you could buy things to do experiments with that the school doesn’t even have! You could have your own lab right here in your room.” He realized that Tony probably wasn’t as interested in having an electron microscope in his dorm as he was, but it was a great idea to Bruce.
“Oh, heck yes! That’s a great idea! I mean, like, I’ve already got a bit of a set up with my computer and JARVIS, but I bet it would be so much better with all this other stuff I could get,” Tony agreed. He smiled wide and started the game they were supposed to be playing.
“You think?” Bruce replied with a grin. He kept his eyes on the TV screen as he read the rules quickly and started up the first level. “It would be like a high-tech secret laboratory,” Bruce mused dreamily as he played, “And JARVIS could control everything, and set timers and read temperatures...”
“Definitely. That’s a great idea, like, JARVIS would practically rule my life, man. If he did all that and all that I’m planning him to be able to do, he’s gonna practically be Tony Stark when he’s done,” Tony said with a laugh, only half-joking.
“Yeah, that’d be really cool,” Bruce said, and then his mouth twitched and he added, “Well, I hope he doesn’t completely take over for you. ‘Cause... you’re fun to hang out with.”
Bruce had only been friends with Tony Stark for a few days, but he already couldn’t imagine high school without someone who understood him like Tony did. Still, he had trouble putting this thought into words, hence the way a blush crept to his cheeks as he mumbled the last part of the sentence.
“Oops, beat you again,” Bruce said as he completed the level, grateful for the distraction from what he’d just said. His formerly faded smile returned in full as he looked over at Tony to see his reaction.
Tony had literally been seconds away from responding to what Bruce had said, hushed and almost unheard, when he blinked at the screen and suddenly saw that, yep, that’s it, he lost again.
“How did you even do that? You’re like, a video game master!” Tony exclaimed, more shocked and entertained than upset that he had lost at yet another game.
“I’ve played something similar to this before,” Bruce responded in a sheepish tone as he ran his hand through his hair yet again. He was still smiling, though, and his grin became more impish as he added: “I’d show you the trick, but then you might actually beat me...”
“Oh, you’re on, Banner,” Tony warned with a grin still firmly in place. It was nice to know that Bruce could not only be on an even intellectual level with him, but he could also challenge him and push him to be greater. Even if that was only in video games for now, that was fine. Great, even. Perfect, actually.
“I wish you luck, Stark,” Bruce mocked as they began the next round. When Tony lost again he suggested they play best out of five, but when he only won once he upped the stakes to best out of ten, as if that would help his chances at all. Bruce just rolled his eyes and kept playing with him until Tony finally glanced over to the computer to see that the updates had finished running.
Tony let go of the controller in the middle of the game and scrambled over to the computer, grinning wide as he finished the restart process. He typed in a few last things before he sat back and looked back over to Bruce.
“It’s done,” Tony said excitedly before he turned back to the computer. “JARVIS? Did the updates install successfully?”
Bruce didn’t realize that Tony had abandoned the game until he won the round and looked over at Tony just in time to see him declare the updates finished. He dropped his controller as well and grinned in excitement as JARVIS confirmed that their additions had been successful.
“Awesome! Okay, now I just need to test it and call someone,” he turned and grinned at Bruce without saying another word, hoping he would take the hint.
“I’ll go to my room and wait by the phone. Call me in about five minutes,” Bruce ordered, shooting up from the ground and almost forgetting to put his shoes back on before he ran out the door.
When Bruce reached his own dorm he was panting, and he burst in to find his roommate, John, sitting on his bed doing some Math homework. John looked up when Bruce entered, looking startled and confused.
“Where have you been?” he asked, in a guarded tone that sounded like it was trying to disguise the nosiness of his question.
Bruce moved to stand by the phone, awkwardly shifting from foot to foot as he wrung his hands.
"I was, uh. With a friend."
Bruce stared at the other boy through glasses that he pressed into his nose as he mumbled, "Uh... I guess, yeah."
John simply raised an eyebrow, which confused and flustered Bruce even further. Bruce gazed down at the phone instead, hoping that Tony's call would come soon.
As soon as Bruce left, Tony started the countdown of the five minutes he had to wait before calling him - or attempting to, as long as everything went as well as it should. And it would. Because Tony was always right.
But he fidgeted nervously when the time was up, waiting a few long seconds more as he gathered up all of his courage and excitement to speak to the AI.
"JARVIS, call Bruce," he commanded, getting a quick, "Yes, sir," in response before he heard the familiar sound of it going through to call his friend.
The phone rang, eliciting a startled jump from both Bruce and John, and Bruce made such a mad grab for the phone that he almost knocked it off the table.
Bruce held the phone to his ear with a trembling hand, his breath catching in his throat when he realized that this was the moment of truth - if he didn't hear Tony on the line, then everything they'd worked so hard on had been for naught.
“Holy shit, we did it!” Tony shouted, jumping up in joy. “Bruce, it works!”
Bruce exploded like a firework at the sound of Tony’s voice, punching a fist in the air and letting out an uncharacteristically loud whoop of joy.
“We did it!” he laughed into the phone. He couldn’t remember ever feeling happier than he was now. Technology like this shouldn’t even exist yet, and still Tony and Bruce were able to create it, just the two of them in a dorm room in high school. For the first time in his life he felt proud, really proud of something he had done, without even a tiny bit of the fear or shame that usually accompanied it.
Tony laughed, his hands gripping his hair in almost disbelief because his one-of-a-kind AI was now even more useful, even more unique, even more everything. And it was all thanks to Bruce and himself. Just the two of them.
“This is so great. So fuckin’ great, oh man,” Tony told him, overjoyed and his mind was running a mile a minute, trying to figure out exactly what they needed to do to make sure it all worked fine.
"It is!" Bruce laughed in agreement, so purely happy that he didn't even care that his roommate was staring at him like he'd sprouted a second head.
“Come back, no, wait, wait, stay on the line for like, five minutes. Need to make sure it doesn’t cut out like a one time thing. We’ll stay on the line, then I’ll hang up and call back. No, no, wait, then you call me to make sure it works the other way around.” Tony ordered, not meaning to sound pushy, but it was hard not to when he was so excited.
He grinned at the floor as he listened to Tony explain their next step, and when Tony finished Bruce said, "Okay!"
“Wow, I just...” Tony trailed off, letting his hands fall to his sides as he smiled. “This is just gonna be so awesome. Now I can actually talk hands-free while I’m working on stuff and this is just so great. Is your roommate in? You should tell him that we’re geniuses.”
Tony only vaguely remembered that Bruce had mentioned having a roommate, and he hadn’t really met him yet. Unless he had and he didn’t know it. Of course, Bruce was the only one of the two on that end of the phone that he really cared about.
“Uhm. Yeah, he’s here,” Bruce said as his bounding enthusiasm began to simmer down to a pleasant contentedness. His grin formed a nervous smile as his gaze traveled up from the floor to meet his roommate’s confused stare.
He ran a hand through his hair and held the phone away from his mouth as he told John, “Tony wants you to know that, uh, he’s a genius.” He wanted to say exactly what Tony told him, but he couldn’t bring himself to add himself into the statement. He thought it was better for his roommate to think him normal rather than ‘a genius’ as Tony had called him.
“Did you tell him? You totally told him, I know it,” Tony grinned as he thought he heard Bruce say something about ‘genius’ as he held the phone away. “Well, I think I can have you call back now. It’s been long enough and I want to know how it sounds when someone calls in. Okay?”
Tony bounced on his heels for a moment, deciding as he looked around his room that he needed to designate a spot on his wall for a place to look to when he talked on the phone - or, rather, through JARVIS - when he wasn’t busy. That would make things easier, not quite as awkward or off since suddenly he didn’t know what to do with his hands when he didn’t have a phone he needed to hold onto.
“Okay!” Bruce said into the phone just before hanging up. He moved to dial Tony again but was interrupted by John, who asked, “Tony, as in, Tony Stark?”
Bruce looked back at him, hand hovering over the phone.
“Um - yeah, Tony Stark.”
John raised both eyebrows so far they almost left his forehead.
“...What?” Bruce asked, brow furrowing as he curled his fingers into a nervous fist.
“Nothing,” John said unconvincingly, and looked back at his homework like it was suddenly very interesting.
Bruce shook his head to himself, still confused, then dialed Tony’s number. He held the phone to his ear again and waited for his friend to pick up.
The sound of a ringing phone read out through the speakers where JARVIS’ voice came from for a moment before the AI said, “Bruce Banner calling, sir,” and Tony grinned, glad that the number programming had worked out right. He might have to change the ring volume, but it was good enough for now and he replied with a quick, “Answer.”
“Bruce? It’s working, right? Please tell me I’m not dreaming and this is actually working.”
Tony’s voice coming through the phone signaled the return of Bruce’s glowing smile and with it, his full excitement. “It’s working!”
“Yes! Oh man, I am so excited right now, you have no idea!” Tony said, bouncing on his heels again before falling back to sit heavily on his bed. “Okay, okay, come back now if you don’t have anything else to do. We can, like, celebrate. With whatever. More video games, food, more work, whatever you want. Hell, bring your stuff and you can just spend the whole weekend over here instead of going to the trouble of actually walking back and forth because, let’s be honest, I’m just gonna tell you to get your ass back over here tomorrow.”
Bruce laughed into the phone and replied, “Sure. I’ll be there in a minute, just gotta pack my toothbrush.”
Staying the weekend with Tony sounded wonderful. Bruce couldn’t wait to get back and beat Tony at video games and discuss the nuclear physics book and learn more about coding. If someone had told him on his first day of school that he would make a friend this great, he would have never believed them. But here he was, packing up his things and heading off to hang out with the one and only Tony Stark.
As Bruce left, John looked up from his homework and watched the door close behind him. “Staying the weekend already?” he mumbled to himself, because that Stark boy was really loud on the phone and he could hear the whole exchange from his bed.
“They must have really hit it off...”