December 24, 2016
Bruce stood in line at the airport security checkpoint. He kept looking down at his watch. 11:17 P.M. Even though the airport was basically dead due to the fact that most people were at home celebrating the holiday, the line of about sixteen people moved extremely slow.
Immediately after his last accident when he called Tony, he decided he needed to leave the country again.
He had saved up some money in the past few months to get himself a plane ticket. One-way only. He was going to South Korea so he could continue his work on medicine- even though he left all of his work in Missouri- and do volunteer work.
Usually Tony was the reason that kept him inside the country, so he would know that at least he had someone who cared about him within reasonable distance.
But this time it seemed like the best choice.
Judging from his last call, it just seemed like Tony only cared about Bruce's actions, not actually Bruce himself.
And it wasn't the thought that made Bruce angry- everybody else in the world only cared about Bruce for that reason. But Tony…
Bruce was almost positive that Tony at least half way understood how Bruce felt. He thought that Tony cared about him- trusted him even. And trust is something Bruce didn’t have from anybody- not even himself.
Plus, Tony was always the one person that Bruce could consider a friend. He didn’t let himself get into too many relationships with people- platonic or not. But Tony Stark had a way of getting under your skin, and once he was there, he didn't leave.
Even now, where Tony is pretty much the person Bruce would least want to see at the moment, he was also the person he wanted to see the most.
He kept reminding himself as he was standing in line and about to turn right around and head to Michigan that Tony was the reason he got angry. The reason he needed to leave. The reason he needed to cut himself off again. Because whether they're good emotions, bad emotions, or emotions that lie in grey areas, emotions were things Bruce needed to stay away from, and that was exactly what he would get from Tony.
After going through security with his amusingly small backpack, which actually did have to get looked through because he had a full bottle of toothpaste in inside of it, he had about an hour until his plane took off.
Bruce sat in the terminal for about twenty minutes, staring at the three other people there, loudly snoring in their seats.
He couldn’t stop acknowledging the phone booth that was next to the restrooms.
He also couldn't stop acknowledging the crumbled piece of paper in his pocket that had Tony's phone number on it.
(No. If you call him, if you talk to him, you won't actually leave. You'll go back.)
Another twenty minutes went by. Bruce saw the plane we was supposed to be boarding finally make its way to the terminal, which meant that he only had about thirty minutes to call Tony if he wanted to speak to him before he left. And when he left, he couldn’t be able to call Tony. Or anybody, but he didn't really have anybody else he would want to call.
Caught in a moment of panic and stupidity, Bruce wandered over to the phone. He doubted Tony would pick up the phone at nearly midnight on Christmas Eve. Even if he was drunk, he probably was with somebody.
He dug in his pocket for a moment before taking out the crumpled piece of paper and laying it out in his palm and dialing with his other hand.
For the first couple of rings, Bruce started getting nervous that he might actually pick up, and the he would have a re-hashing of the events that occurred on their previous call. And that would be even worse now, because it's Christmas. And Bruce is at an airport.
But this was a risk he was willing to take.
The voicemail finally picked up. Tony's voice was good to hear, and Bruce was suddenly not mad at him anymore. Stay focused, Banner. you can’t go back now.
"This is Tony Stark. If you don't know how a voicemail works, then you don’t deserve to leave me a message." There was a small beep and Bruce suddenly felt put on the spot.
"Um… hey, Tony. It's Bruce. Look, I…uh… well, I guess I'm sorry about last time… I just wanted to let you know, you were right to worry about me and shit. Clearly you have a good reason to, but… now I'm leaving. For good. No more phone calls, visits, anything. I'm leaving the country. I don’t know if I'll be back…" It all seemed so… emotionless. Like Tony was a drug addict and Bruce was making him quite cold turkey. "…but I need to let you know why I made this decision."
Bruce glanced up at the terminal. They were starting to board first class, so he knew he had to make the rest quick, which was difficult, because he felt a wave of emotions so strong he almost didn’t recognize them. But he'd felt them before for someone else. But this time they felt more…real.
"Look, you probably know the effect you have on people. They yell at you about being selfish and arrogant and all that, and every single one of them is right. And you infuriate me more than any other person I know. And you're the type of person that I need to stay away form because you piss me off so much. I can’t stand you." All of this was being so rushed he wasn't even sure Tony would be able to understand him.
"But, god damn it, you're Tony Stark so it doesn’t matter. For a long, long time you made me feel cared about and trusted and wanted, and god damn it, no one's made me feel that way in way too long. Tony… you… you’re the first person I would consider to be my 'friend.' You know what? No. That's stupid. You're more than a friend, Tony. You're more than just someone who cares about me and trusts me and respects me. You put up with me, all of me. You make me feel… like more than just a monster… or just a scientist… you make me feel needed, something I've never felt." Bruce was just realizing all of this as he said it out loud.
And it hurt. It hurt in a way that didn't make his heart rate go up or anger him. It just suppressed him. And he kept going.
"And I don’t mean needed as in the way I'm needed as a doctor. I mean needed in the way that means someone actually wants to see me. And spend time with me. And be with me. Which nobody wants to do. Because if they know about the other guy, they don’t want to touch me with a ninety foot stick. If they need to see a doctor, then of course they don’t want to see me, they're probably dying. But you know about the Hulk and sure, some could argue that you are dying, but not urgently. And you still want and need me? God damn it Tony I- I don’t know what I would do to myself if I put you in any sort of danger. And that's exactly why I need to leave. For good… Merry Christmas, Tony. I love you."
And with that, he hung up the phone and wiped tears from his eyes as he ran back to his terminal.
If he had taken about thirty more seconds on the phone, he would've missed the plane.