Tony is in the car, on his way home from a hellishly boring board meeting Pepper dragged him to, when an alert sounded on his phone. Tony glanced at the device, expecting it to be SHIELD calling him for a mission, only to scramble up when he reads the message.
Someone is accessing his server. Not the company’s – that one is fair play for most of SI’s researchers - but Tony’s own private, encrypted-to-hell-and-back database, where he keeps all the information that should not fall into the wrong hands. Among others, it contains the specs for the arc reactor, his old weapons designs and, oh hell, all his files on the Iron Man suits.
“Jarvis!” he barks into the phone, “How the hell did someone break into the files? Can you tell which files they’ve accessed?”
There is a significant pause before the AI starts speaking. “Sir, there has been no sign of a break-in to the system. All the files were accessed with the correct security verification. The passwords, voice recognition and biometrics all appear to be in order, sir.”
Tony leans back against the leather seat, thinking hard. There are only a handful of people who has been given access to Tony’s private server, and right now, only one of them makes any sense at all. “Jarvis, cross-reference the passwords to the ones from Dr. Banner’s files.”
“They are a match, sir,” Jarvis reported shortly after, confirming Tony’s theory. “As for your earlier query, I believe that Dr. Banner is accessing the files containing the old weapons designs for Stark Industries.”
Shit. Tony finds his whole body going stiff at that, and leans forward to order Happy to get them home now, damn the traffic rules.
What the hell are you doing, Bruce?
When he arrives at the tower, Tony goes straight to Bruce’s lab. As expected, the scientist is there, staring intently at a screen and scribbling down notes on a pad of paper, something he still does despite Tony’s insistence that they go paperless. He looks absorbed in whatever he’s doing, biting his lip and furrowing his brows, the way he usually looks when he’s just that close to a breakthrough on a difficult project.
“Hey, Bruce, what’cha doing?” Tony says, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. He strolls into the lab as if nothing is wrong, and leans against Bruce’s worktable, just a touch too close to the other man.
“Hey, Tony,” Bruce says quietly, his hands twisting together in a worried gesture that he can never entirely get rid of. His head is down, and he seems to be gathering courage to look straight at Tony. Something twists in Tony’s stomach at that small motion, because no matter how he acts around other people, Bruce has never had trouble meeting Tony’s eyes, not since their first meeting on the helicarrier.
“Bruce…” he starts, not really knowing what to say, but Bruce stops him with a slight gesture. Tony watches as Bruce squares his shoulders, looks Tony in the face and pushes the screen he was working on in Tony’s direction.
Reluctantly, Tony tears his gaze away from Bruce, and focuses on the screen. Sure enough, displayed on the screen is a weapon – a missile – Tony had designed, years ago. He turns to Bruce, wanting to ask - demand, really – to know what the hell he thinks he’s doing with these plans. That’s when he catches sight of the field-designation for the weapon. The Hulkbuster.
Oh. Oh shit. He should have known. Stark Industries had a weapons contract with the military, and that includes making weapons to hunt down the Hulk. To hunt down Bruce. Fuck.
“Fuck, Bruce, I don’t…” Tony says hoarsely, running his hand through his hair. “I’m sorry.”
And he wants to laugh, bitterly, because that’s all he can say, isn’t it, and inadequate doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. I’m sorry. He is, he is so very sorry, but there’s nothing he can say, or do, to make it even remotely better.
Tony feels kind of sick. Guilt, sadness and all those horrible, horrible emotions he doesn’t want to look at too closely are flooding him all at once. It’s a familiar feeling, the same one that churned in his stomach when he found out that the weapons he made to protect his country was actually being used by terrorists. It’s the same feeling that led to him shutting down the entire weapons-manufacturing operation in Stark Industries.
And he knows exactly what’s causing it, too. This man in front of him has gone through so much shit in his life, and knowing that he contributed to that, however small his part, makes him feel like the worst person in the world. He looks down, now, unwilling to see the expression is on Bruce’s face. He almost hopes that it’s anger, because anger he can deal with. It’s his calm acceptance, or worse, his forgiveness, that Tony’s not sure what to do with.
Unexpectedly, a hand settles on Tony’s shoulder, warm and gentle, making him look up in surprise. Bruce is looking at him thoughtfully, and then he appears to reach a decision.
“I’ve been trying to improve it,” Bruce says, motioning to the monitor.
Tony can’t do anything but stare at him in shock. “What?” he asks, praying that he heard wrong, or that he misunderstood somehow. Because Bruce can’t possibly mean…
“The Hulkbuster,” he says, with an amused huff at the ridiculous name. “I’m trying to make it more effective against the other guy. You know, just in case,” Bruce says, shrugging as if it’s no big deal.
And just like that, Tony’s back to being angry. He doesn’t even know what he’s angry at - Bruce, himself, the world in general – he’s just really, really pissed off. “Just in case what, Bruce? Just in case you feel like killing yourself again?”
As soon as he said them, Tony regretted the words, but there’s no way to take it back. Bruce doesn’t even flinch, just keeps looking at him steadily, until he feels the anger draining away, leaving only exhaustion in its place.
“Damn it, Bruce,” Tony says, slumping forward tiredly. “I don’t like it when you try to find a way to get rid of yourself.”
Bruce moves nearer, right up into Tony’s personal space, and rests his forehead against Tony’s. Just to be close, because he wants Tony to listen when he says this, and for him to know that he means every word he says.
“I’m not, Tony,” says Bruce, voice hardly above a whisper. “Honestly, I’m not trying to find a way out, here. This isn’t about that. I just…I need to be sure. If anything happens, if I can’t control him anymore…I’d just feel better if I know that there’s something out there that can stop him.”
“C’mon, Tony, you must have contingency plans too, don’t you?” Bruce asks, finally pulling away.
Tony nods slowly, not even thinking of lying. He just pulls up the files and displays in front of Bruce. Bruce doesn’t open any of the files, simply noting there is one for every member of the team, up to and including Tony himself.
Bruce just smiles, not really surprised at all. Tony can be a paranoid bastard, after all, and the thing is, he doesn’t trust himself any more than he trusts the people around him. And hell, that’s certainly something Bruce can understand; he just needs to get the point across to Tony. He’s not trying to kill himself, and he’s not even trying to get rid of the other guy anymore. He got over that a long time ago, he had to. All he wants to do now is to make sure that he won’t be able to hurt the people - these people - that Bruce has come to care about, so very much.
“This is exactly what I’m trying to do, Tony,” Bruce says, gesturing at the files. “And when I’m done? I’m going to put the files right back where I found them. I’m leaving it in your hands, Tony. If you ever need to use it, you’ll know where to find it. Just you. Okay?”
Tony looks at Bruce, eyes warm and dark and very, very understanding. He knows what Bruce is doing, no doubt about it, especially not with the way Bruce is watching him right now, trust evident in his expression. Bruce is usually keeps a tight rein on his expression, schooling his face into a careful blankness, lest he give anything away. So, seeing that expression, open and honest and looking so very vulnerable on his face, it breaks something in Tony wide open.
Because here Bruce is, handing Tony a way to destroy him on a silver platter, basically, and fucking trusting him with it. Just you, Bruce said. Just Tony, and the responsibility lands square on his shoulders.
Tony has spent his whole life trying to avoid being responsible, whenever he can get away with it. But this, here? This he’ll take, and take gladly. Because if it gives Bruce even a small measure of peace, well, who is Tony to say no to that?
“All right, Bruce,” he says. “Okay.”
And Bruce looks so damn relieved at that, as if he honestly thought Tony would have said no. Tony shifts closer, and puts an arm around his shoulders, and no, he doesn’t give a damn how weird it looks.
Because honestly, he just needs physical proof that Bruce is here, and alive, and as close to fine as can be expected. And he rather thinks Bruce needs the reminder, too. So he throws his arm around Bruce, pulling him closer and rambling on about… something, he’s not quite sure himself. But he catches a hint of a smile on Bruce’s face and decides that yeah, that’s good enough, for now.