Tony Stark was a genius. He was funny, and kind [even if you had to look past all the sarcasm he hid it under], and a hero. Despite that though, the way he would talk sometimes… it made Bruce worry. Offhanded comments about if he wasn’t around anymore, about when he was gone. There had been one particularly disturbing one about Afghanistan and how Yinsin deserved to still be alive and not him. That one had made Bruce actually lose enough control that he needed to leave the lab and not talk to Tony for the rest of the day.
Of course Tony hadn’t realized the reason behind it. He’d just given Bruce his distance [Bruce was one of the few people he cared enough about to do that for], and the next day he’d come to the Doctor’s lab, leaning against the work station Bruce was hunched over. “We okay?” he asked, his voice soft, no sign of his usual cocky tone.
Bruce very intentionally finished what he was working on before he looked to the billionaire. Tony’s face was carefully blank, but he had always been shit at making his eyes go as blank as the rest of his features. It was there that Bruce could see Tony’s worry that he had really fucked up somehow. “We’re okay.” he confirmed.
The smile that broke over Tony’s features had such relief. “Is okay… good?” he asked.
Shaking his head with a small smile, Bruce looked back to his work. “I’m not quoting A Very Potter Musical with you Tony. I still don’t see how Darcy convinced you to watch that.” What was perhaps more alarming was how attached Tony had quickly become to the parody. “Plus, I think if either of us are Voldemort here, it’s you.”
Tony laughed, clapping Bruce’s back, his hand lingering rather than falling away. “Whatever you say Quirell.”
Apparently, everyone else had seen what happened as inevitable. Tony and Pepper breaking up, Tony spiraling into his drinking hard but surprisingly not reverting to his habit of sleeping around; though perhaps that as only because he’d taken to his workshop and the lab for so many extended hours that it didn’t leave time to go out and do so. Bruce sticking around Tony even with the state he was in [Pepper had tried, but both she and Tony needed time. They would work it out, be friends, but everyone could see they needed time]; making Tony eat and sleep and not even once showing that it put any strain on him, watching what the man who had become such an important part of his life in such a short time attempt to destroy himself.
Everyone had seen what would happen before Bruce did. Okay, so maybe they didn’t know what the breaking point would be, but they had all known there had to be one. It was Tony Stark, eventually he could always be counted on to do something that would drive the people who cared for him most to lose it. Even Bruce.
There had been an explosion in Tony’s workshop. To this day, Bruce still isn’t sure it can be counted as an accident, no matter if Tony insists that it was. It had been big enough to shake the Tower, and frankly they were all lucky that the reinforcement used in constructing the lab and workshop floors meant it hadn’t compromised the stability of the whole building. Tony himself had been hurt, and pretty badly. Broken bones, burns, internal bleeding. He was remarkably lucky. The problem was, Bruce knew Tony, knew his state of mind, and knew how easily he could make things going wrong in the workshop seem like an accident.
Tony was out for three days. Bruce didn’t leave the room, setting himself up in a corner with a tablet and just watching as people came in and out, eating when Natasha or Steve brought him something and stayed to watch that he actually consumed it.
Pepper came in the second night, eyes red and giving off nothing but tired energy as she sat at Tony’s bedside. For a long time she and Bruce said nothing to one another, though both were highly aware of each other’s presence.
“…This is why I couldn’t stay with him.” Pepper said finally, making Bruce look up from his tablet at her.
He knew what she meant, she was talking about his injuries but… “This didn’t happen on the field. It was in the workshop.” he said carefully.
Pepper smiled sadly, nodding. “I know. And it’s hard enough watching him get hurt by…” she hesitated, clearly not sure if she believed what she was about to call it. “…accident. I could’ve done it, if this were all. But with Iron Man he’s always…” she trailed off again, swallowing. “He’s always putting himself in danger. I can barely handle that as his friend, I just couldn’t do it anymore as his lover.”
Silence took over again, because really, what could Bruce say to that? Pepper wasn’t being mean, she hadn’t stopped caring for Tony, and she did need to look after herself too. “You’ll take care of him, right?” she asked finally, standing up, obviously preparing to leave. Bruce looked up, surprised, and nodded after a moment. Pepper seemed to search his face and the smiled again, dipping her head in a small nod. “Thank you Bruce. I know it’s a lot, but you’ll be good for him. I can tell.”
He was about to ask her what she meant, but she was gone. For awhile he stared at the door, before sighing and looking back at his tablet.
When Tony woke up late in the day, Bruce was there, dozing. Of course, Tony’s cursing made him jolt right awake. Not even two minute conscious and he could see the billionaire was already trying to pull wires and tubes and needles out. “Tony, stop.” he said, his voice a rasp. Of course Stark didn’t stop, making him listen was never that easy. “Tony, stop messing with the equipment, you’re hurt.”
“I don’t do hospitals Banner. Go get a doctor or whoever. I want out now.” And that was Tony, no matter how injured he was he would always be demanding.
Bruce stood, and the tablet that had been in his lap clattered to the ground, not that he paid it any mind. In just a few long strides he was across the room and at the bedside, quickly pining Tony’s wrists down. “Stop it.” he said with more force.
Tony did stop, but he glared up at the other man. “Get a nurse. I’m done here.”
“You’re hurt Tony.” Bruce said once again, just a bit exasperated. “You may not feel because they’ve got you on all sorts of painkillers but—”
“I’m fine.” he insisted, trying to pull away from Bruce.
And whatever it was about that, about Tony just brushing off Bruce’s worry, just pulling away, it made him snap. “You are not fine!” he exclaimed in a half yell, holding the other’s wrists more firmly. “Your workshop was almost completely taken out by the blast! You’ve got broken ribs, a crack in your skull, internal bleeding in more than one place, and not to mention just the sheer number of stitches you had to get! I’m not going to let you hurt yourself more because you’re a stubborn idiot! I almost lost you, so just stay in the fucking bed!”
Tony stared at him, before speaking quietly and carefully. “You’re looking a little green there Doc.”
Bruce’s eyes widened. He let go of Tony and backed away carefully. Pressing the heels of his hands to his eyes, he concentrated on the growling in his head, the Hulk wanted to push out. Somewhere in that rage he could feel the intentions of his other self, all focused on Tony, protecting Tony, from well, Tony himself. The problem with that plan, as oddly noble as it was for the other guy, was that he would more likely end up doing more damage to Tony than help. He tried to convey as much to Hulk, who calmed just a bit. I will protect him from himself. But I need to be me to do that. Let me be me.
It took several minutes of promises and compromises before the other guy pulled back, became that low buzzing instead of a steady roar. Bruce lowered his hands, inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply, to find Tony watching him. “You okay?” he asked, and didn’t even wait for an answer before holding out a hand to Bruce.
He had to force himself to go to Tony, to take his hand. “Are you staying here?” he asked in return.
Tony gave a dramatic sigh, but nodded. “Yeah, yeah. Might as well get out of work for as long as possible.”
Bruce smiled; it was a bit strained, but it was genuine. “I’m okay.”
Tony’s fingers squeezed around his. “Good.”
As far as Bruce was concerned, the Other Guy had one job. It took place over smashing, over following Steve’s orders, over everything. Protect Tony. Steve and Thor could take care of themselves; Clint and Natasha had each other’s backs; Hulk didn’t need protecting. Tony though, Tony was on his own and while yeah, he was in a suit of armor and capable of taking a lot of damage, he was also the most reckless and likely to get himself killed by flying and acting before thinking.
He didn’t know what had distracted Hulk; he could never remember much if anything at all. But from what had been pieced together for him by the others, the giant lizard thing that had been fighting had knocked it’s tale into a building, sending rubble everywhere, and one boulder sized chunk right into Tony, knocking his systems out of whack. Which of course, made for a falling Tony. It wouldn’t be the first time Tony fell out of the sky during a fight, but it did turn out to be the first time since the Avengers formed that Hulk wasn’t there to catch him.
It could’ve been worse; he knows it could’ve been. Tony is mostly cut up and bruised. He has one cracked rib and a concussion. But still he was hurt, and it had been something the Other Guy could’ve stopped. The only thought that Bruce had was what if it had been worse, what if Tony had gotten a far more life threatening injury, or just died. All because Hulk wasn’t there, doing the one job that made Bruce even remotely okay with sharing his body with him.
Academically, from past experience, he knew it wouldn’t do anything. But the weight in his hand, it felt good. Like maybe, this time, it would work, and he would never have to worry about a life where the only redeeming thing he had was gone.
“…You know that’s not going to work, right?”
He didn’t jump at Tony’s voice, didn’t even look up. He knew what Tony would look like, standing in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, that same carefully blank look with too many emotions in his eyes to be effective.
“Sometimes… sometimes it just feels good to hold it.” he told the other man softly.
They stayed that way, Tony in the doorway, Bruce sitting on the edge of the bed, holding the gun, in silence for what felt like a long time. He wasn’t sure how long they were like that before Tony entered the room, walking to stand before him, and then kneeling. One hand cover’s the gone, the other goes to Bruce’s free hand, lacing fingers. Slowly, he slid the gun away, laying it on the floor next to him rather than the bed next to Bruce. “You don’t need to act like this.” he said. “I’m fine, I’m still here, you still have me.”
“And what about next time?” Bruce managed to choke out around the lump in his throat.
“The next time I’ll be fine too. I’m resilient, haven’t you noticed?” Tony tried to make a joke, to get him to smile, but it didn’t work.
“You don’t know that Tony.” he gritted out. “I didn’t do my job out there and I could’ve lost you. I can’t—I can’t lose you.”
“You’re not going to—Bruce look at me.” Tony lifted Bruce’s chin, forcing Bruce to meet his eyes. “You’re not going to lose me. I’m going to get hurt, it’s part of the job, and the Other Guy can’t always be there to catch me. But I’m not going anywhere because I’m just not letting it happen. Okay?”
Bruce could only stare at Tony, because what was he supposed to say? That wasn’t exactly a promise Tony could really make, and both of them knew it. Tony slid his hand from Bruce’s chin to his hair though, pulling the other’s head down a bit so they could rest their foreheads together. “I’m okay.” he said softly. “And I’m going to keep being okay.”
There was no chance for Bruce to reply, because they were kissing, and though he was pretty sure it was meant to be a quick chaste one, it quickly turned into something different. Bruce found himself responding with more fervor, hands moving to grab at Tony, to keep him close, and Tony, being Tony, always returned as good as he got, and then some.
When they broke away, breathless, Tony let out a shaking laugh. He ran his fingers through Bruce’s hair, and searched the other’s face as he spoke. “We going to be okay?” he asked.
Bruce nodded vigorously before sliding off the bed to the floor so he could more easily hold the other close. “Yeah.” he said quietly before burying his face in Tony’s shoulder. His next words were muffled, but Tony was still positive as to what they were.
“We’ll be okay.”