Bruce leaves, not a week after Loki is back in Asgard and Thor sends word that things are only beginning to get complicated. He imagines a war, far out in the cosmos, and is hard-pressed not to make Star Wars references whenever he can. It's unfortunate because Steve doesn't get them, but kind of a blessing in disguise because Tony does.
Tony is incorrigible and violent and aggressive and horrid -- but Bruce likes her, more than he cares to admit. He likes her because she has rage, deep seated and rolling, like his own, thrumming in her veins. She lives without fear, launching her body and the suit at the sun whenever she can, just to see if this time, she can touch it. She drinks too much and fucks too much and sometimes she's perched on the edge of the tower, a cigarette dangling between her fingers, her feet bare against the night air as she watches ash fall from the burning tip and flutter away.
"I always thought it was going to be different," she murmurs the first time he catches her out there. Bruce sits right next to her, because he stopped being afraid of heights a long time ago. He throws his legs over the side along with her and they trade a joint back and forth when they can, those first few days. And she knows he's going to leave, tells him so that first night, mouth close to his ear as they play with gravity. "You were always going to leave," she says, and doesn't ask if she can blow him. Not that night.
She asks if she can the second night he's there. Bruce doesn't entertain any delusions about bumping elbows with Tony in R and D. She gives him the chem lab no one is using and some new toys to play with before he takes off for less shiny parts of the world. No one's hunting him except himself, and he makes for easy prey when he's enjoying life. Sometimes being happy is like painting a target on your back and Bruce doesn't like to waste emotions where it isn't wise to have them.
But he wants Tony. He likes Tony and it's been a long time since he's slept with someone he genuinely likes. Someone who could mess with him and jerk him around and treat him like he won't break if he falls. She isn't smiling when she says it, and maybe that's why Bruce says no. He kisses her, or she kisses him. Both at once, their polarities not quite matching, but her skin is hot under his and his hands are wide and frame her face and it feels good to touch her. But no. Tony's smile is telling -- she's disappointed and if he gives her another second to talk, she'll tell him exactly why she's disappointed. Bruce leans in and licks the shell of her ear and drags his fingers along the waistband of her jeans.
"Can I go down on you?"
It's a stupid question, but sometimes, Bruce is a stupid man.
When he leaves, he only brings this stupid, nearly impossible to use Stark phone with him, because Tony put it in his hand as he was getting on a plane and said "Answer it, you asshole," before grinning like a devil and swinging into her car. It's the last he sees of her before the plane finally takes off. SHIELD has the decency enough to act as a half-hearted chauffeur, but Bruce isn't going to hold them to anything, ever. Fury makes pretty promises, but who knows and who cares?
Six months after he goes, his phone lights up for the first time.
"Good! You charged the battery like I told you to." Bruce can hear something in the background spinning, the sound of gear-on-gear clicking over the other line. "How's Bermuda?"
"Whatever. Listen. I need you. Like, in a national emergency kind of way. We can bang after, if you want. I'm not opposed to it. I mostly get my rocks off thinking about your tongue anyway, so if you want to be, like, the reality to my fantasy or whatever, hit me up, post-mission and all that."
"What's the problem?"
"Little intel in the way of actual details, if you can even believe that. Steve's shaking Fury down at the moment, trying to pull some secrets out of his eye patch. Is that where he keeps them? I keep mine in my socks. Where do you keep yours?"
"Should I come back?"
"Absofuckinglutely you should come back. There's a plane on its way to meet you. Someone'll call you when they're five minutes out. Can you get there that quick?"
Bruce groans and shifts the phone to his other ear. "Yeah, I can."
"Good." Tony hangs up, leaving Bruce with only his meager possessions and a ratty duffel bag for company. It's good timing, and Bruce suspects that even Tony knows that. If there's even an emergency, he'll be surprised. He makes relative peace with his neighbors and hands out some medicines before making his way to the airport. There's no Natasha there to greet him, just a SHIELD agent shaking in his boots, like Bruce didn't fucking choose to leave that kind of shit behind when he took off six months ago. A guy could get used to people not treating him like a land mine. He buckles into his seat and fishes a bottle of rum from his bag, takes a couple shots, and passes out. He wakes up ages later with cotton mouth and fifteen voice messages, mostly from Tony, one from Steve, and one from Pepper of all people.
"Don't let Fury put you up somewhere, you're staying here with us."
"Hey I was thinking that you could bunk with me. Like, save space and the body heat will do wonders for that back problem you've got. You have a back problem, right?"
"Hey, doc, I know we're sort of putting you out. Gotta round up the team, bringing in some big guns for this, I think. Not entirely sure what we're dealing with, but I'm letting Tony take care of getting you here, she's pretty intent on doing that. We're meeting tomorrow morning at oh-seven-hundred."
"I checked with Rhodey and he thinks you're either the most dangerous friend I have or the fucking greatest so let's test which one is the safest bet."
And the messages sort of continue that way. There's a message that consists entirely of Tony saying his name a hundred times and Bruce just decides that that's enough of that and stuffs his phone into the front pocket of his bag before getting off the plane. Fury is loitering by a doorway, but it's Steve who's there to meet him, in full SHIELD garb, hands behind his back and face placid.
"I think we're at Bruce, now, Steve."
Steve breaks into a smile and wraps him in a hug. "It's good to see you, big guy."
Bruce feels something like warmth and adoration swell up in his chest. Because he likes Steve. He realizes with a sort of bittersweet rush that he really likes Steve a whole lot. "Yeah, you too."
"Tony's bouncing off the walls, but Thor just got here and I'm pretty sure he accidentally took out power to the western hull of the ship so I sent her off that way to fix something. She's good with wires."
"Mmm, truer words have rarely been said."
Tony isn't back yet by the time they get to the debriefing room, but Natasha and Clint are there, talking in the corner in low, hurried voices. Bruce doesn't think they're scheming -- that's just the way they talk to one another. Natasha gives him a polite nod and Clint grins, tossing the stress ball in his hand at Bruce's head. He catches it with ease and collapses into a chair, pinching the bridge of his nose and zoning out while Steve and an agent make notes on a pretty much useless white board, since no one will pay much attention and Tony will insist they just jump off of buildings onto whatever the fuck is trying to kill them and see what happens.
"Hot damn you look good in jet lag." Tony shoulders the door open and stumbles in, her arms full of wires and Thor trailing behind her. "Oh good, the gang's all together. Who wants souveniers? I replaced every last fuse. I thought we could make friendship bracelets with the leftovers."
"I could use this," Clint says, grabbing some of the wires. Tony's eyebrows telegraph and she and Clint talk about practical bow strings until Fury saunters in and forces them to sit the fuck down. Tony slides into the seat next to Bruce and grins at him.
"You look good, doc."
"You too." Tony bites her lip and watches him for a moment, probably trying to pick up on the sarcasm that Bruce wouldn't even have the energy for if he wasn't telling her the honest to god truth. It must set off something because she ignores him for the duration of the debriefing, focusing on explaining to everyone why everything that's happening is Justin Hammer's fault and honestly, she already rode this pony before, if anyone was watching the news.
"If it is Hammer, he's well hidden. After he made bail he disappeared. No one's seen or heard from him since," Steve explains. Bruce spaces out. He gets it. Robot army threatening to overtake the city, gotta find where they're stored. Tony is fairly useless in this department, considering Fury's talking about taking them out with an EMP and just shutting them down before they can get out of their boxes and do the dirty to all of Park Avenue.
"Like this city needs another scare," Tony mutters, leaning back and curling her legs under her. Steve nods in agreement and starts talking stealth and bringing Clint and Natasha into the sphere.
Tony slides a note across the table. Guess we're pretty much moot, eh?
I don't know why you asked me to be here.
Steve wants to pick your brain. You're no good to us over there.
Not everything is about you guys.
Understood. There's more happening here than Justin throwing a hissy fit.
I figured as much.
Tony rolls the note up in her palm and tosses it into the garbage and calls the meeting over. For her anyway. "If you're just going to fry them at the source, then I don't have any business being here."
"If you and Bruce can take a look at the specimens after--"
"Banner's not an engineer. Don't waste his fucking time."
"Right." Steve nods. "Well. We'll see."
Bruce doesn't like Steve when he's being cryptic. Not the least fucking bit. He corners him after Tony's left and the meeting falls apart, Clint and Natasha taking their respective missions and slipping out. Thor is asleep at the end of the table.
"Why'd you call me in?"
Steve slips some paper into a file and sighs. "Bruce--"
"I am being very serious, Steve. Because I didn't exactly want to leave behind my work and hop the pond so I could dissect robots with Tony. Which, by the by, isn't really my area of expertise."
"I need you for something else, Bruce." Bruce raises an eyebrow. "What do you know about robotic prosthetics?"
"The, uh...the fusion of, say, a robot arm, to a, uh, human. A person. A person's arm."
"Either be specific or vague, Steve. Spit it out."
"You ever read about Bucky Barnes?"
Bruce frowns. "Once, I think. I had a book about you when I was a kid."
"Well--" Steve stops. "Seriously?"
"Mmm, yeah. My mother bought it for me. It was one of those books by the cash register at the grocery store. Those books with the big print and the pictures, teaching you to read. I was too old for it, but she...anyway. Yeah. Bucky was in it. Sorry. That was stupid. He's dead, isn't he? I read about him in a file when I got here, too. Yours."
"Uh, I don't..." Steve runs a hand through his hair and clears his throat. "Here." He leads Bruce down a few turning halls and stops in front of a long window ending in a door with more locks that Bruce thinks might be necessary. He understands, though, when Steve finally shows him what they're keeping.
The Winter Soldier is breathtaking, in a medical sense. Bruce leans very close to the glass and presses his hand against it. He just watches, thinking that the man might be sleeping, but could be doing a dozen other things, with the way his hands are folded across his chest, just so. Steve puts a hand on Bruce's shoulder and draws him back.
"What do you want me to do?"
Steve smiles, but it's a tired one, and Bruce feels sorry for him. Probably for the first time. "You know a little something about people thinking you're a monster, don't you Bruce?"
He gets back to the Tower to find a message from JARVIS, directing him to his old room, and a quick video from Tony explaining that she's out, she'll be back, don't blow anything up until she gets home. Bruce feels a twinge of endearment, like he always does when Tony gets excited about her diagnosed pyromania. He drops his things off in his room and falls onto the bed, dead-asleep before he even manages to turn off the lights. JARVIS must shut them off at some point because he wakes up and it's pitch black, the shades over the windows drawn and clamped shut, though that's not why he's awake.
"Move over, Colossus."
"Hey, I'm serious. Move over."
She sits up, her shirt half-off and her pants definitely not on. Bruce groans. "What?" She looks at her chest, at the soft blue glow spreading over the room, and pulls the top back down. "Sorry."
"Is it our animal magnetism? Our chemistry, if you will? No worries, doc, I'm just getting over some chronic insomnia. I'll pay you if you let me call you Teddy."
"Shh." She pats the space in the bed next to her. "You're pretty, but you're thick, doc. Take your pants off. And your shoes, Christ on a cracker." Bruce sits up and drops his pants and toes off his shoes, giving in and sliding under the cool sheets next to Tony. Her body is hot, hands sort of sweaty against his jaw as she pulls him toward her and tucks him into the spaces she makes between every bend of her body. "Did Steve talk to you?"
"Barnes is batshit crazy, but they managed to isolate him from the Winter Soldier persona. He's still unstable."
"He looks it."
"The Hammer thing is a slam-dunk."
"I'm gathering that."
"Also I really wanted you back here. It was my idea. About Barnes. I thought you might like the challenge. Also I missed you. Also Steve agreed with me and that's sort of pre-apocalyptic behavior right there. I kept watching for meteors for days after."
Bruce shifts next to her. "Bucky's his friend. He wants to help him."
"Yeah." He hears her breathing begin to even out and the hold she has on the back of his neck loosen. "That's what friends do, I guess." Bruce nods, reaching forward and pushing the hair out of her face and seeing that, finally, for maybe the first time in days, she's fallen asleep.
Tony's gone in the morning, which isn't much of a surprise. JARVIS has another message from him, this one from Steve, letting him know that the specs on Barnes are in his lab. He dresses and heads into the kitchenette expecting to eat in the relative solitude of his private quarters, but is surprised to find Clint and Natasha trying to split up a box of pastries.
"Oh thank God, I thought we were going to have to fight over the last danish. Here." Clint hands him a plate heaping with pastries and a glass of milk. "This is your kitchen, isn't it?"
"Mmm, for all intents and purposes."
"We can never find ours and JARVIS is sort of a dick."
"You forgot the password, Agent Barton."
"Right. That was to keep other people out of our apartment."
"Your request specifically said--"
Natasha interrupts. "Clint's just mad because he's wrong. Sorry, J."
"Of course, Agent Romanov."
Bruce shakes his head and asks JARVIS to pull up any files he has on the Winter Soldier.
"Steve wrangled you into that project?"
"It's not a project," Natasha snaps. Clint sits up straight. "Barnes needs help." She shoves the rest of a cheese danish in her mouth and watches Bruce flip through some files on his tablet. "What're your thoughts?"
"I'd have to look at the arm. Steve sent up some files on it, on his history and his blood work. I'm not sure what he wants me to do. I'm not a therapist, assimilating him into this world is going to take time and patience. If anyone should do that, it's Steve."
"He's working on it," Clint says. He wipes his mouth. "But Barnes has some serious issues with the arm. You should see the way the SHIELD newbies look at him. Like he's got four extra heads or something."
"I know the feeling."
Clint nods. "Probably why Steve thought to call you. Well, Tony asked for you first, but Fury was not on board. Then she got Steve to agree with her. I think he was just glad to have them in the same room without clawing at each other's faces."
The three of them finish their breakfast and Bruce leaves them for his lab. Tony had made it his the day after Loki was gone, hauled in everything herself and let him tinker in there to his heart's content. It looks the same as when he left it, save for the coffee he had only remembered leaving behind as his plane was taking off. There's still a ring on the table, but the mug is gone. His papers are scattered about, some of his data still on the boards. He smiles as he takes an eraser to the white board and starts asking JARVIS to transfer the files from his tablet to his work station up here. "Let's scan and digitize those files from Steve, too. Can't stand paper." He picks up a pile of it and drops it into the shredder.
The paperwork on the Winter Soldier is half-Russian, half-English. JARVIS translates it down to the colloquialisms and Bruce wades through it, piecing together papers that have been thrown into the file out of order, trying to read through paragraphs smothered by thick, black marker lines. He has his nose pressed against a miniscule bit of typing that JARVIS can't magnify without distorting when Pepper breezes in, setting a plate of sandwiches and a couple of beers on his table.
"Hi, Bruce. You look good."
"Eat that. Tony's orders."
"Mmm, that's rich."
"That's her style." Pepper smiles and pulls up a stool, taking a sandwich and a beer. "She's been more terrible than usual. But the Hammer thing is stressing her out."
"She told me it was a slam dunk."
"Justin Hammer was supposed to rot in a jail cell, if we were lucky. But we're not, and he's rich and that wasn't how it worked out. We've tried to keep tabs on him, but he's pretty hell-bent on the revenge thing. She's worried the droids are a distraction."
"Some kind of massive kill-bomb. Her words." Bruce shakes his head and picks at his sandwich under Pepper's eagle-eyes. "Justin Hammer is a bizarre man who got screwed over. He isn't very fond of either one of us. Hopefully, Natasha and Clint can pull in more intel, if the sweep goes well."
"It would make sense. The distraction. Throw SHIELD and Tony off with some sort of massive droid invasion of the city. It's just stupid enough to get everyone's attention. Then he shows up with the big guns. He won't leave anything like that laying around some secret warehouse. Especially if Hammer is as smart as everyone's saying he is."
"Hammer has political savvy. He's smart, but he was, at one point, stable enough to negotiate an arms deal with the US Army. Tony left all that to Obadiah. Politicians give her scurvy. Again, her words." She takes a swig of her beer. "These days Hammer is sort of just--"
"I have an arch rival. I think I get it." Pepper laughs around a mouthful of sandwich and smiles. "You know about this stuff?" Bruce gestures toward the Barnes work. She nods.
"To an extent. Tony's talked about it. She told Steve you should come in on it."
"That's the story."
Pepper finishes off her beer. "She trusts you. That's sort of a big deal."
Bruce looks up and nods. I trust her, too is sort of unsaid, because Pepper is the kind of person who knows these things. She leans forward and kisses Bruce on the forehead.
"Thanks for having lunch with me," she murmurs. When she leaves, she leaves behind the smell of ballpoint pens and clean linen and Bruce is sort of thinking about his mother. He shouldn't -- Pepper is nothing like her, doesn't look like her or sound like her and smiles too much to resemble her in the slightest.
But they smell the same. And it's offputting.
Bruce shakes off a few lingering memories and manages to get some actual work done. The smell of the lab and the quiet conversations with JARVIS and himself make him think of internships from another time. Of actual work in an actual lab with an actual team and Betty. Betty being there and working with him. He combs a hand through his hair and asks JARVIS to construct a model of Bucky's arm from the data they have. At some probably ungodly hour -- JARVIS is always an hour behind and probably on purpose -- the door slides open and Tony walks in, her phone crushed between her ear and her shoulder as she shakes a glass of something in one hand and gestures wildly with a tablet in the other. It takes Bruce a second to realize she's not speak English but extremely rapid French. There's an angry flush crawling up her neck, but when she hangs up using the only words in French that Bruce learned -- fuck you in the ass -- her face is bright and cheery and a little disconcerting.
"Pepper fed you?"
"Is that what it was?"
"Clint told me you came up here pretty early. If you're anything like me, and you are, then you probably don't know how to eat without some adult supervision." She drags a stool closer to him and looks at the model of Bucky's arm. "Ooo, gimme! This is wild, Bruce. Look at the hook-ups here. Look at the motion he has. God, this wiring is spectacular! Fuck the Russians, I'm telling you. Fuck 'em." She pushes the model back to Bruce. "Where are you on the biology of this?"
"Is anyone ever going to ask me to do something in the field I have a PhD in?" he asks, shaking his head.
Tony shrugs. "This is how you find your true calling my friend." Bruce looks at her, picking her nails and sipping from the brown glass tumbler, not even wincing as it goes down. "Thanks for letting me crash with you."
"Night out with Rhodey before he heads back to LA. He says hey there, by the way. Thinks you're some kind of criminal mastermind." She hands him the glass and Bruce takes a long drink. "He knows Ross. I mean, we all know Ross. But like, they were at some thing together. Military orgy probably. Anyway, says the guy's a piece of work." Tony takes the glass back and finishes it off. "I could use some more. You?"
"I need to finish this blood work."
"I have an idea where you don't do that. And then we get drunk together and see what happens." Tony turns on the stool. "I'll end up drunk tonight either way so you can either be there with me, or I can be unsupervised. Your choice."
Bruce looks from his work to Tony's now outstretched hand and takes it without much thought.
"See? You are smart."
He wakes up in his bed, alone again, mouth thick and grimy with the taste of scotch. He remembers Tony sitting in his lap and telling him all her least favorite things about New York, which became a list of all her least favorite things about herself. And then Bruce told her all his favorite things about her, starting with the crown of her head and ending with the joints of her ankles, where he settled his lips until she fell asleep. JARVIS starts the coffee in his kitchen and, blessedly, there are no breakfast companions. It's the day of the mission, he remembers, and it's ten AM. Knowing this team, everyone's probably back in bed, Hammer intel well under wraps and ready to be deciphered. His phone wails like a banshee and Bruce suppresses the desire to squash it with the milk jug.
Tony groans from the other end of the phone. "I hate you."
"Actually you told me you adored me, last night."
"Mmm, and I do. But I also hate you. Barton and Romanov have the intel."
"Should I be there?"
"Maybe." Bruce hears the sound of the shower going and realizes she's taken her phone into the spray. "I'm going. Wanna be my plus-one?"
"Good. We'll get Dunkin' Donuts on the way." She hangs up. JARVIS informs him that Happy will be around with the car in twenty minutes.
"Miss Potts also took the liberty of having some new garments delivered to your room, based on what you already own."
Bruce shakes his head. "You people are strange."
"I object to that sentiment, sir, only on the basis that I am not people. Otherwise, I would have to agree."
Tony ushers Bruce into the meeting room some time later and sits across the table from him, closer to Fury so she can grab the intel and start leafing through it. Fury, at this point, doesn't even try to take it away from her.
"As you can see, what we've discovered isn't anything new. Though Miss Stark continues to insist that there's something more we're not seeing here." Fury glances toward Tony who is busy rolling perfect circles out of scraps of paper. "If there's really some kind of hidden plot to kill you--" Tony looks up. "Then I've got no idea what it is."
"That's his endgame. Probably. Can't be sure. Hammer blames me for a lot of things. Generally, always has. Me being dead would be a really good place for him to start feeling better about himself, I'm sure." She shifts in her chair. "I told you it wouldn't be at the warehouse. Like I'm all for us stopping an army of maniacal droids from tearing apart Upper Manhattan, but if you don't want to deal with this, I'll go find that intel myself."
Steve frowns. "You really think that's Hammer's plan?"
"Yes." Tony looks between Steve and Fury. "Look, Hammer won't hesitate to trash this city just to kill me. He knows I won't want that to happen. At the end of the day, he knows if I had to choose between going after him and stopping a busload of kids from going over a bridge, I'd take the bus. Any day. But he'll do that. He won't care about anyone else if it means he can shake me up."
Fury raises an eyebrow. "And you're worth all that trouble."
"Of course not." Tony's smile falters. "But Justin will do it anyway."
"He wants you dead that bad?" Steve asks.
Tony shrugs. "We have a complicated history."
Clint snorts. "Did you screw him?"
"Mmm, I definitely thought about it. I mean, he's not so unfortunate looking. He's just got too much political savvy for me. Not really my style. I mean, you know how I feel about Senatorial committees." She grins, back on track and back to rolling circles out of paper. "Look, if no one wants to handle this, then I'll do it myself, Jesus Christ. I'm telling you, Hammer is up to something sketchy. It might not even be about me! Shocking, I know! But if no one else thinks this whole thing is sketchy beyond belief, then fine. I'll fucking deal with it on my own."
"Where do you think he's keeping this intel?" Natasha asks quietly.
"His house. Probably. He's taking this personally, so he's going to keep it with him, where he thinks it'll be safe. The Hammer house is big. Like my kind of big. Possibly bigger. Maybe. Probably not. But it's big, is the point. You won't want to look through every room. He'll keep it close to him because he's paranoid. Probably in his office. He--"
"Are you implying that we'll be performing an illegal sweep of Mr. Hammer's estate?" Fury asks, already packing up his papers. Tony shrugs. "I have another meeting to get to. Don't do anything that'll get my ass in anymore hot water than it already is."
"Well if we stop a crazy person from dropping an alien onto New York City then I guess you'll get a promotion, won't you?" Tony holds Fury's gaze for just a second before the director turns on his heel and heads out of the room, already on his phone and leaving them behind. "Not a Watchmen fan I guess. Anyway. Thoughts?"
"If we do this," Natasha says carefully, "can you guarantee we're going to find something? Because if there's something there, we will find it. This isn't just you being a paranoid ass."
"No." Tony's face is drawn tight, worry etched in the corners of her eyes and in the whites of her knuckles. "I've known Justin Hammer for a long time. I know when he's plotting. I know when he's up to something and he's up to something. I promise. Those droids were a kid's game. It was nothing to him. He's planning something." Natasha nods, because sometimes she hates Tony and sometimes she beat the shit out of Tony on the mat when it's just them and they're tired, they're so tired -- but she understands Tony, in little ways.
"We'll do it," she says, standing. Clint follows her. "We'll go in tonight and if there's something, we'll have it in the morning."
And then that's it. Clint and Natasha disappear and it's just Steve and Tony and Bruce. The air conditioning in the room kicks off, throwing them into a strange silence. Steve clears his throat.
"You, uh, you done any work on Bucky?"
Bruce nods. "Come by tomorrow, I'll have a report for you." Steve purses his lips and then gets up without another word. Tony is still rolling up pieces of paper in perfect circles before setting them aside. Bruce realizes she's made more than twenty or thirty, spread out next to her right hand, just sitting at perfect attention, each constructed with a lazy, perfect skill that Bruce sort of envies. "Tony?"
"Let's go get wasted," she says, standing and settling her sunglasses on the bridge of her nose.
"We already did that."
"Let's do it again, then." She walks out the door and Bruce knows she'll be doing what she wants with or without him. So he follows, mostly because she drove him here, but also because what the fuck else is he supposed to do? Tony asked him to come here and he didn't really think about it. He would have come back for Steve. But he would have asked more questions, one. And he would have wondered what the real reason was. With Tony, he already knew.
Because we're alike, because I like you, because you're different, because I'm lonely, because I need a buffer I need a catalyst I need you to just take a look at this for me, I need more I will always need more.
"Rhodey thinks you're like a criminal mastermind or something," Tony says for the second time in two days. She's mixing her fourth drink, Bruce's fifth. "I mean he's seriously impressed with your record. Outrunning Ross is, apparently, kind of a big deal. You're like a smalltime hero with the rookies. Ross is a dick."
"We should go to LA. Rhodey's in LA. You wanna go to LA with me? I miss Rhodey. Like, I miss Rhodey all the time. He gets up to take a piss and I miss him, seriously. It's a problem. I have a thing, you know? He's my best friend. Like, ever. In the history of forever, hands down. Him and Pepper. I miss Pepper, too. We should call Pep."
"I think she took a plane to DC a couple hours ago."
"Okay, we'll call Pep in the morning then. You like Pepper, right Bruce?"
"Good," she murmurs. "That's good." She sets Bruce's whiskey on the table and swallows half of her own. "I don't know how I managed to have friends like I have. I don't deserve them, that's for fucking sure. Like I've never done anything in my life to have these fucking fabulous people in my life, you know?"
Bruce traces the edge of his glass with his thumb. Their knees knock together. "You're reaching levels of self-hatred even I haven't managed yet," he mutters, shaking his head.
"Oh honey." She leans forward, scooping a piece of ice from the glass with her tongue. "I'm so far ahead of you, you just think I'm coming in last."
And then she kisses him, pushing his mouth open with her tongue and letting the ice slip from her teeth into his mouth. He groans at the cold, sucking in the ice and letting it slip down his throat. When he shivers, Tony crowds herself into his lap, cupping her hands behind his ears and deepening her kiss, her tongue heavy in his mouth and along his teeth. Bruce pulls away and drags his teeth along her jaw, dipping his head to suck on her neck. Tony pulls back, a laugh caught in her throat.
"Are you serious?"
"I have a sensitive jaw line," she insists. She leans forward, pressing her lips to his ear, her tongue flicking over the shell. "Put me to bed," she murmurs.
"You need help."
"If by help you mean your dick in my mouth, then, uh, yeah. I do."
"What is your problem with that? Like, do you Hulk out over blow jobs? Is that a real thing?"
"Do I have to carry you to bed?"
"If you even think the words 'bridal style' I'll slit your throat right here." Bruce shakes his head and stands with Tony still in his lap. She hooks her legs around his waist and grins. "Now this is getting carried in style."
"I don't want you to feel obligated."
"Obligated to...carry you back? Because I wouldn't dream of it."
Bruce kicks the bedroom door farther open. "Obligated to blow me."
"Ah, that." Tony unwinds herself from him and drops onto the bed. "I don't."
"That's good." She starts to crawl backward over the bed and Bruce follows her, pushing her legs apart as he goes. He isn't sure where he's going with this at all, but here seems like a good place to start. He kisses her again, slower this time, sucking on her tongue and drawing his teeth over her bottom lip. He remembers his last night with her, and it was a lot like this. Tony finally quiet and Bruce trading one thing for another, trying to be something she needed, something she didn't have. But it was hard then and it's hard now -- because Tony doesn't, in all technical sense of the word, need anything -- but she's gasping into his mouth like she does, toying with the buttons of his jeans like she knows.
Bruce pulls her hands away and reaches forward to undo the buttons of her own jeans. Tony opens her mouth like she's going to say something, like she did that night, too. Bruce pauses, watches. She leans forward instead and kisses him, nodding for him to go on. Bruce finally works her pants open and slides them down her hips and off her legs, tugging her underwear off along with them. He kisses the inside of her thigh, sucks a bruise along the underside of her leg, and drags his thumb over her clit.
"Fuck. Yeah, okay. Fine. That's good."
Bruce thought about how Tony tasted every night after he left. He came into his own hand thinking about it, during precious moments alone. He thought about her between patients, between the occasional surgery. Between holding guts and bone in his hands and handing out plates of food and bottles of pain killers. And sometimes, he wouldn't think about Tony at all, wouldn't even try -- but she'd force herself into his head and Bruce couldn't get her out. He tried to scrub the corners of his head clean of her because he was so sure that this -- his face between her thighs and his tongue pushing into her cunt -- this was never going to happen again.
Tony grabs his hair and tugs because she's like that, because she wants to rile him up and listen to him groan into her. His whole mouth is over her now, swallowing everything he can. Bruce slips two fingers inside of her and sucks on her clit. He can tell she's close and there's a string of absolutely nonsense flooding from her mouth as Bruce draws back and finishes her with his hand. She clenches around his fingers and moans, wanton and insane and beautiful. Her chest heaves, the light of the arc reactor shaking the shadows on the wall as she catches her breath. It throws light onto her neck, shimmering with sweat. Bruce just watches.
Tony finally sits up, still breathing heavy, and drags him in to tongue-fuck his mouth into oblivion. "You're a monster all the way through, aren't you?" she manages. Bruce grunts into her mouth. "Let me blow you."
"Bruce. No one likes putting a dick in their mouth. Now shut up and take your pants off."
He comes an agonizingly short time later, feeling like someone's unscrewed a vise from his chest and he can finally breathe again.
Bruce wakes up in the morning, feeling warm and fucked out and like he's missed something important.
"You look like bad leftovers," Tony says, leaning against the door of the bathroom. She flips an electric toothbrush in her hand. "I've got a meeting to go to. Feel free to lay naked in my bed until I get back."
"You need me to go?"
"No." Tony leaves and comes back a few minutes later, pulling a sweater over her t-shirt and clipping her hair up. "I can handle this." She pauses by the doorway and Bruce thinks she's going to turn around, going to say something or smile or something -- but she just keeps going, and Bruce listens until he can't hear the snap of her feet on the floors and falls back into bed.
He can't remember falling asleep last night, but he knows Tony was still awake when he did. It's seven, now, and he knows she was probably up the entire night. If she's nervous about the Hammer intel, she hasn't said it. Bruce wants to think Tony getting smashed every night is some kind of deviation from her routine, but he knows better than that. He knows she would follow through on every promise to drink anyway, even alone. He doesn't kid himself by thinking he's doing her any favors -- every time they drink together, it's for him and it's for her. It's never for them.
Bruce sleeps for another hour, but when JARVIS informs him that Tony's going to be out the rest of the day, he gets out of bed and fishes around for his clothes before heading back to his own floor for a shower and to finish writing up the report on Bucky's blood work. He's definitely not expecting Steve to be sitting on his couch when the elevator doors slide open.
Or Bucky, for that matter.
The three of them stare at one another, until Bruce clears his throat and extends a hand.
Bucky stands. "Dr. Banner."
"It's nice to finally meet you." Bucky nods and takes a seat again. There's something Bruce recognizes, and something he's terrified of seeing. Bucky is thrumming along his edges with violence and fear and ice and Bruce knows how that feels. He recognizes that alertness, the constant fear of becoming someone's experiment again. Bucky's been a lab rat -- it's something in his eyes, something Bruce sees and Bucky sees and they latch onto it, from across the living room, all in a matter of seconds. There's trust there, but just enough to get them through the rest of the morning. It's the kind of trust you build up and take down at the end of every day because you never know who this person will be tomorrow.
Steve clears his throat. "I thought we might just come over and you could talk to us."
Bruce nods. "Of course. The lab's this way."
"Actually..." Steve looks at his hands. "Maybe we could just...sit in here? Everyone's...everyone's comfortable. Here. Thought it might be nice."
Bruce gets it. For a while after his accident, he nursed a solid fear of laboratories, too.
It was never about blood work, really, with Bucky. The research and the models were meant to appeal to Bruce's technical side, and he knows that. Because Bucky has probably been given the ultimate SHIELD primer on the Hulk, it's only fair Bruce gets to do some digging of his own.
He suspects they've both come to a similar conclusion.
"I can't assimilate you," Bruce finally says, perching on the edge of the coffee table. "There's no way I can comfortably do that, I'm hardly assimilated myself."
Steve leans forward. "We're not asking for that."
"Steve." Bruce holds up a hand. "I think maybe you should let Bucky tell me what he wants." Anger cross Steve's face for a second before he pales and falls back against the couch, turning away from them and rubbing his hands nervously over his knees.
"I'm thirsty," he says quietly, and heads into the kitchen. There's a lot of obvious clatter until Steve gets a glass and fills it with water, then head onto the balcony.
"He'll be gone for a while," Bruce says quietly.
"He means well."
"I know he does. But you're your own person, Bucky. You don't have to want the things Steve wants for you. His transition was different than yours. He went under a hero and came out a hero and you did't."
"And you know what that's like?"
Bruce laughs. "Stop pretending you haven't seen the footage."
"I thought maybe you'd the chance to tell your story your own way."
"The versions rarely differ."
Now Bucky laughs -- it sounds new, like he's trying it out for the first time and he doesn't quiet like the way it sounds. "I know the feeling."
When Steve decides that he's not thirsty anymore, he takes Bucky and they leave the apartment, letting Bruce finally shower and pass out again for a few more hours. He's emotionally drained -- sharing your life with someone even more fucked up than you are kind of takes it out of you for a while. Bucky is never going to be alright, not in any whole and complete way. There will always be parts of him missing and parts of him that he can't escape because they've become him. His own personal monsters, locked away because of time and the funny ways it works.
Bruce wakes up with a start to find Tony lingering in his doorway. She has her hands over the arc reactor, letting the light slip through her fingers, throwing warped light over the wooden floors. Bruce sits up in bed and watches her. He thinks she's sober, but then Tony mostly acts the same either way. She's so still, the stillest he's ever seen her. He's used to Tony shift like sand, constant and buzzing and beautiful.
"I was right," she says quietly, shaking off the illusion. "Usually I like being right." She peels off her sweater, coming into the room and perching on the end of his bed. She absorbs all the light in the room, blacking out everything around her. Bruce only sees his own hands in a hazy shade of blue. "I never regret doing what I did to myself. I don't regret the Iron Man. I don't plan on it either. I think people expect me to, you know? Like, Hammer's going to blow up a school, just to push me. He wants me to regret this. Because this is the reason. This is why his life went to shit and it's why Pepper eats Tums for breakfast and it's why I can't breathe without Fury crawling up my ass. Everyone wants me to regret this and I won't and it makes them so mad. Like I should be sorry for saving my own life and then doing something with it.
"I don't want to talk anymore, Bruce. I just want you to fuck me and I want you to do it because we both it."
"Tony, you shouldn't--"
"Don't tell me what to do."
When she's naked, Bruce thinks about the summer he spent in France, when he was twenty-two and taking a few months off before grad school. He met a girl there, and even when he closes his eyes and thinks about the way she smelled, the way that entire night smelled -- like bread and honey and white wine and sand -- he can't remember her face. But he remembers the pale expanse of her body and the way her abdomen was criss-crossed with scars, and how she wasn't ashamed and he was obsessed. He ran his hands over them, traced them with his tongue, drug his teeth along them until she came around his fingers and asked him to do it again.
Tony drops her clothes and watches him, cataloguing the way his eyes rake over her skin, taking in scars and new bruises and a few cuts along her hip. He reaches forward and presses his thumb into a black and blue patch of skin, just over the top of her thigh. She gasps and throws an arm out, bracing herself on his shoulder. Bruce leans toward her stomach, pressing his lips on a patch of burned skin, rougher than the rest of her. He traces it with his tongue, bringing his hand up to her jaw and dragging his thumb over her lips. She's like patchwork, every part of her so different from another. But she's so well made, repaired by her own hand. All the parts come from somewhere else -- from Pepper, from Rhodey, from Howard, from the suit -- but she takes it into herself and rebuilds and comes out better.
Let me be part of you, Bruce wants to say. Take some of me and rebuild. He could give her an arm, an eye. He could give her his mouth or his voice.
When she lifts off his shirt and lays her hand over his chest, Bruce thinks that, maybe, his heart might be enough. Just for now.
The reactor hits his skin and takes him by surprise -- he doesn't know why he thought it might run warm, but it's a bitter, biting cold. Tony huffs a laugh at his reaction and covers it with her palm. "Sorry." But Bruce just pulls her hand away, pressing the reactor against his chest and kissing her. He sucks on her tongue and it's like licking a battery. "You're wearing too many clothes," she mutters, shoving him back onto the mattress and going for his jeans. And then that's it -- there's nothing between them, nothing separating them except the space Tony's made by stepping back and tossing the rest of Bruce's clothes over shoulder. He sits up and they watch one another, until Bruce reaches out and pulls her in, settling his mouth against the hollow of her throat.
Bruce finally manages to wade through one of his bags by his bed and fish out a condom, letting Tony tear open the foil and roll it over his dick.
"You should tell me if this isn't something you want," she says, grinning.
"It's either this or you shoot me in the face. Either way I'll feel better."
"Drama queen." She sinks slowly onto him, bracing herself on his chest as his cock slides home and finally, finally, finally he's all the way in and she's hot and tight and so good that Bruce is already betting against himself for how long he's going to last. Tony fucks herself onto him in long, aching strokes that strikes him so deep they hit marrow and cells. He feels every drag like she's brushing up against his brain, like he's splayed open and her hands are clenched around his ribs, holding herself up. Bruce reaches up and strokes her stomach, feeling the way muscles expand and contract under his hands. "Up here, eyes on me fuck that is good." Bruce finds another bruise and presses and she keens, tilting her head back and nearly howling. She finds his hands and threads her fingers through his, trailing downward toward her clit and finding it together. Bruce can feel his dick pistoning in and out of her cunt, can feel how she's controlling her movements and the speed. He is so close. He is so fucking close.
Bruce reaches up with his free hand and traces the network of scars etched over her chest, crossing her breasts and running down her sternum. Tony swears, reaching up with one hand to grip his own and hold it there, over her breast, nails gently brushing over the edge of every raised like and cut and bruise.
"You're such a freak," she gasps. "I'm gonna come. You're a freak, a total freak, fuck that is good, do that and don't stop--" She clenches around his dick, sending Bruce's nerves into a frenzy. He flips her over and pulls her tight against him, thrusting in and in and in until he thinks maybe he's broken and then he comes. He yanks Tony in and pitches forward, holding himself up against the bed, his forehead falling onto her shoulder as he shudders to a finish, breathing ragged and wet. Tony's hands come up and thread through his curls as he softens inside her and finally pulls out. They stay like that, stuck together as they come down.
Tony finally untangles herself from him and Bruce rolls over.
"That was good," she says after a while. "Like, really good. Insanely good. You're a total fox in bed, you know that?"
"It's been said."
"God damn. I mean, I know I've got skills, and I'm sure you're impressed--"
Bruce grins. "I am."
Tony grins and stretches out next to him. "Thank you."
Bruce rolls over and looks at her. "You did a lot of the work."
"I usually do."
"You wound me, Lady Stark."
Tony sighs and reaches out the pushes the hair from his forehead. "Well. It won't be your last."
It's Tony's usual style to be gone when Bruce wakes up in the morning and she doesn't disappoint. Bruce wakes up feeling that pleasant ache in his thighs and doesn't even blink when he doesn't see Tony sleeping beside him anymore. He's pretty sure she didn't sleep at all. He pulls on what he can find and pads out of the room and into the kitchen, surprised when he sees her standing at the stove, wielding a spatula at a skillet.
She turns around, her face twisted in anger. "Hi."
"What are you doing?"
"Making you a proper breakfast. That's what you do after important sex, right?"
"Usually a man does that, in my experience."
She snorts. "Fuck that."
"Can you cook?"
"Absofuckinglutely I cannot cook. But you're adorable, so I'm trying."
"Let me help you."
"No. Let me make you burnt eggs and you can pretend you like them and then we'll go out for breakfast."
Bruce attempts to stomach the eggs, but Tony gracefully relieves him of the responsibility and, eventually, they end up at her favorite breakfast place, which Bruce can only describe as "swanky," a word Tony insists that he remove from his vocabulary immediately. They make the conscious decision to get tipsy on mimosas and order stacks of pancakes and try to see who can finish first.
"How can you shove, like, six layers of pancakes into your mouth?" Tony demands, dumping more syrup over hers. Bruce just smiles and keeps eating. "I wasn't lying, by the way. About what I said. Hammer's planning on blowing up the university. Fury tried to have him arrested last night, but he's vamoosed it already. His plans went missing and he took off. He was kind enough to leave his explosives all over the NYU campus though. It's like the world's scariest Easter egg hunt."
"You don't have to joke about it," Bruce murmurs. "You can be scared."
Tony stops chewing. "No, I can't."
In the car ride back, she blows him and secures promises for future sex later, but when she disappears into her lab, Bruce knows it'll be a few days before he sees her again.
There's a missed call from Steve on his phone, asking if he's seen Bucky at all. It should be alarming, Bruce knows, that someone as unstable as Bucky as has managed to give Steve the slip, but he has a feeling he knows where he is. When he gets to his lab and finds the lock broken and the door half-way open, he knows who he'll find inside.
Bucky's trying to figure out how to open the files Bruce digitized the week before, but JARVIS keeps insisting on a password.
"It's 'Betty,'" Bruce says quietly, leaning against the door frame. Bucky raises an eyebrow and the files begin opening, one at a time.
"That your girl?"
Bruce shakes his head. "Not anymore."
The files are organized into a few categories -- psych evals, blood work, work on the arm, and history. Bruce pulls a stool next to Bucky and starts going through them with him, turning the pages when he asks and bringing in other files when he wants them. There's a photo of him when he came in, his hair long and wild, streaked with grey. Bucky reaches out to touch it, his fingers grazing against the screen.
"Doesn't even look like me."
"He has your eyes."
"You're hysterical, doc." Bucky shakes his head. "I don't need to see anymore." Bruce nods and closes everything up. "Might wanna change your password."
"If one of Tony's locks can't keep you out, then there's really no hope for the security of this lab." Bucky nods and fidgets with a pen on the desk. He doesn't look like he wants to leave, but he doesn't look like he wants to talk, either, so Bruce just starts working around him. Pepper sent him some files from Stark's nuclear division, asking if he'd let her know if everyone in the department is a lunatic or if she can trust some new nuclear medicine program they're developing. He's in the middle of writing a strongly worded letter to the head of research when Bucky clears his throat and asks if he wants to grab a beer.
"If you're not busy," he adds. Bruce shakes his head. "Swell," he says and Bruce catches a glimpse of a smile that was probably a damn lady-killer, back before the war.
"I'm never too busy for beer. Should you tell Steve where you are?"
"Steve's a big boy and so am I."
"It's not really about Steve, you know." Bucky glances toward the SHIELD logo emblazoned on his paperwork.
Bucky tells him sadly that most of the bars he hit up in Brooklyn are gone -- "What the hell's a Game Stop?" he mutters. -- but Steve took him someplace that reminded them both of the old days a little too much. Bruce takes him to a bar called Elliot's not too far from the Tower and orders a couple of beers.
Of all the strangest things that Bruce has done, this might be on the top of the list. Bucky sits facing the door and watches it every time it opens, his eyes following people as they mill around the room. Bruce orders his third beer by the time Bucky's finished with his first and thinks maybe he's spending too much time with Tony.
"So what happened to her?"
Bruce looks over the rim of his glass. "Pardon?"
"Your girl. Betty. What happened to her?"
Bucky frowns. "She doesn't dig super heroes?"
"Mmm, I'm talking about a time several years before this."
"Like when you got zapped and it made you a freak."
Bruce laughs. "That's one way of putting it. I was always a freak, though."
"She wasn't into freaks then?"
"She was into me, or a while. I wanted to marry her. Settle down, you know? I didn't have a good home life when I was a kid and I always wanted to fix that, I guess. Bring some stability to the Banner name."
"Guess that didn't work out."
Bruce finishes his beer. "No, it didn't."
"I had a girl. Long time ago. Kept pestering me to marry her. I thought the war was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. Got to wear the uniform, got to be free. I was such a fucking moron. I thought that the worst thing that was ever gonna happen to me was getting hitched. It was worse than death."
"Everything usually is."
Bucky downs his beer and pushes the glass across the table. "We broke up, a while before I took off. I got to be single and unattached and then I went off and I died. Might as well have, anyway."
"You're still here."
"That what you used to tell yourself?"
"Yeah, but it was more of a curse."
"What is it these days?"
Bruce watches a man hold the door open for a woman, kissing her as she passes. She tosses her head back and laughs, pulling him in behind her.
Steve is livid when they get back, unable to fathom why Bucky would take off or why Bruce wouldn't say anything or why no one felt it prudent to tell him a damn thing. Bucky throws an arm around Steve's shoulders and tells him to relax, short stack. Steve's face melts into a smile.
"I'm sorry, Bruce, I--"
"It's okay, Steve. You guys go home." Bucky gives him a little salute and they head off, jostling one another down the sidewalk, their voices falling into a rhythm that's older the Bruce is able to recognize. He makes his way back to the Tower, thinking about Tony and thinking about the night before and burnt eggs and scars and the way she looked at him and how she felt under his hands and around him. He shivers.
When he gets to the lab, it's almost completely dark, save for the tell-tale blue light spilling across the floor and a shower of sparks in the corner. Tony whips her head up, lifting her welding helmet as Bruce turns on the lights.
"Not in the dark you aren't."
"I'm not in the mood to joke with you. Either fuck off or be useful."
"What should I do?"
"Hand me that wrench." Bruce reaches across and puts it in her hand. Tony promptly throws it at him. "Go away."
"What the hell--"
"Hand me the wrench again."
"If you want me to go, then I'll go."
"No. I just want to throw things at you."
"Because you're here."
They stand across from one another, Tony's hand at her hip, ready to draw and fire. Bruce takes a few steps back.
"Do you want to hit me?" Tony scowls. "I'm serious. Do you want to hit me?"
"No," she mutters.
"Do you want to hit the Other Guy?" He's offered it before, when he thought she could use the tension relief. But the response was always the same, a resounding and bitter no.
But now, Tony takes off her welding mask and throws it across the room. "Yes. Absolutely. Yes." And Bruce isn't surprised.
It's not just Steve who needs a punching bag sometimes.
Bruce lets himself smile and follows her out of the lab and toward the stairs to one of the sparring rooms. She disappears into a room for a minute while he peels off his shirt and takes of his socks and shoes. When he looks up, Tony's adjusting the cuff of one of the gauntlets. "You ready?"
Tony grins and drops the faceplate, propelling herself back to the other side of the room. Bruce shakes his head and lets the transformation happen, realizing a little to late that these are new pants. Wouldn't be the first time.
And then he's completely under, slipping beneath the water and settling on the bottom. It isn't like being drowned, anymore, though there are accidents and times when someone forces his head down, holds him there, his arms thrashing. Sometimes he isn't ready for it, like something's dragged him under, jaws locked tight around his legs. But today, he slips beneath the surface with ease, sensations muffled as the Hulk takes over, the full force of Tony's attacks and punches just grazing the edge of his mind. He can feel her coming at him and he can feel the Other Guy trying to play nice because they have come to some mutual understanding that they like Tony and trust Tony and hurting Tony is probably a bad idea. Bruce doesn't entertain conversations with the Hulk very often, but sometimes they just come to these conclusions together without a lot of thought.
He comes to a while later, Tony's face swimming into view. She's out of the suit and sitting cross-legged next to his head, running her thumb over the lines in his forehead.
Bruce sits up. "Hey yourself."
"That was good. I almost knocked him over."
"He was very well behaved. Do you have Hulk treats? I think we should make some. What does he eat?" Bruce laughs, looking around for something to cover himself. "Here. Stand-by sweats. Though I must say that I vastly prefer you this way."
"You're in a better mood."
"For now." Tony leans forward and kisses him, curling her hand over the back of his neck and pulling him in. Bruce's mind is still hazy, Hulk-thick and not quite right. He can feel the Other Guy on the surface, fighting to go down and trying to share this sensation -- Tony's lips on his, her hands on his body, the smell of ash and oil and mint. But there's nothing to break and no one to fight and eventually he slips away and Bruce's hands stop shaking. "NYU is a bomb free zone," she murmurs against his mouth. Bruce nods. "And Pepper's coming back from LA in the evening."
"Pepper was in LA?"
"Mmhm. After I found out about the plan, I made her leave DC. I mean, really, I just wanted her to go check on Rhodey and I wanted them to be together and safe. Because that's the only thing, you know, that I regret." Tony sits back and runs a hand over Bruce's chest. "That I put them all in danger, when I made this mess. And that I can't always keep them safe."
"No one is ever going to be able to hurt Pepper."
"I know. She's a deadly weapon. She's actually on the no-fly list."
"That's not surprising."
"So am I, to be fair." Bruce laughs. "What about you?"
"War criminal," he murmurs, kissing her cheek and down over her jaw. "AWOL from the military. Wanted for treason and crimes against the state. Murder, in some parts."
Tony grins. "Sexy."
"Whatever works for you."
"Come upstairs and read your criminal record to me while we fuck."
Bruce shakes his head. "You are so strange."
"Only the best for you."
They sit like that for a while, until Bruce finally manages to put the sweats on and shake off the last bit of wooziness.
Tony crows his lap, tracing the outline of his nose and chin, drawing circles around his eyes. "You're going to leave again, aren't you?"
"I'm okay with that."
"I wasn't really asking for your permission."
Tony laughs. "I know. I'm just saying...I'm okay. With you leaving. I think I understand why you do it."
"Maybe you should come with me."
"Ha! God you're adorable, you know that? Like, really fucking adorable."
"Guess not, then."
"I have...obligations. And so do you, to be fair. But you have the luxury of being able to leave."
Bruce nods. "I know."
"Just...keep your phone on you. Like, at all time. There could be another emergency."
"You mean the kind when you have an existential crisis and start thinking about mortality and life and what it means to be a hero?"
"Yes. Exactly. And I might need you to help me get through that again. Your dick's a cure-all."
"Please never say that to me again."
Tony stands and stretches, holding out her hand for him to take. "Whatever you want, big guy."
He does leave, packing away some of his new clothes and tablet Tony made just for him. Not as a gift because gifts are for squares and people in committed relationships and they are neither of those things. But still, it's kind of sweet. Bruce changes the background of it from a picture of Tony's ass to a picture of the Tower because of obvious reasons.
"There are, if you're interested, lots of pictures of me naked on there."
"Just something for you to enjoy."
"Is there a video?" Tony grins. "Okay then." He puts the tablet in his bag and pulls it over his shoulder. "I'lll be back, you know."
"Famous last words."
"And I've got your phone."
"So you can stop looking at me like I'm going to fall off the edge of the planet."
"I'm not," Tony mutters.
"Yeah. You are."
"You're my friend. And also really amazing in bed. Excuse me if I'm going to miss that." Bruce leans forward and kisses her forehead, folding her into his arms. Tony leans against him and breathes into his chest. "Okay." She pulls back, pushing his arms off and settling her hands on her hips. "If you're leaving, you need to go, because I'll just get distracted and you've got lives to save."
"This is true."
"So skedaddle. Get out and only come back once you've cured cancer. Or I call you. Whichever comes first." Bruce huffs a laughs and shifts his bag. "Just, you know. Be careful. You're a felon, I've seen your record."
"Yeah, whatever," she says and pushes him into the elevator.
-- SECURE ELECTRONIC MAIL --
pepper made you an email address and you'll hear this little bing when it goes off.
the password is betty because you're obvious and consistent.
steve says bucky is good, but bucky doesn't trust cell phones so i can't send you the
picture i never took of them at the zoo it was fucking hysterical.
there was a minor werecat crisis a few days after you left, but clint basically took
care of it on his own. total beast, i'm telling you.
please do not send me anymore pictures of children, it's unsettling. you, however, are
fair game so send me LOTS of pictures of your dick. i'm not making a collage/shrine
also hurry up with the cancer cure, there's a lot of folks waiting.
-- SECURE ELECTRONIC MAIL --
FOR SOME REASON IT WON'T STOP BEING IN ALL CAPS SO I'M SORry oh there it goes.
i will send you one picture of my dick because i suppose that's fair. the cure for
cancer goes slow, but next time you sniff a werecat crisis, give me a buzz and i'll
see what i can do. sorry about the pictures of kids, but they were pretty jazzed to
find out i knew iron man. all the girls here worship you.
i miss you, too.