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"So, I have this ticket to a Broadway show, and I can't use it," Tony said, head bent over one of his gauntlets, a wire in his mouth; somehow he was still intelligible, but just barely.

Bruce looked up from his monitor, and said, "What makes you think I can use it?"

"You have a butt, right?" Tony said. "You know, that thing you put in a seat? And ears? And I know you like music--" He waved the tip of the soldering iron in the air, indicating the ambient music, which was, of course, rock, and not show tunes. "--so I'm not sure what the problem is."

"Scheduling?" Bruce said, ignoring, oh, everything else that was wrong with what Tony said.

"Oh, right. Tomorrow night. I've got this thing, this thing for Stark Industries, big and boring and stultifyingly formal. Pepper says I can't skip it, and she is my boss, so. Where was I? Oh, right, the ticket, it was free or something but if I don't use it it's apparently an insult. So. Can I send you in my place?"

Bruce turned to his keyboard and noted down his observations on the latest iteration of the spectrograph analysis before sighing. "Yes, I'll go."

"Great! Do you have a suit? I mean, a real suit. None of that rumpled-college-professor stuff."

"Yes, of course."

"I'll need to see it first," Tony said, clearly dubious.

"Sure." Bruce rolled his eyes and turned back to his data.

* * *

Friday night--the next evening--found him watching a tuxedo-clad Tony argue with Pepper, terrifyingly tall in bright red heels, over whether they were allowed to be late to the benefit so Happy could drive Bruce over to the theater before dropping them off.

"I can take a cab," Bruce said into a half-second pause while Tony batted Pepper's hands away from his neck.

"Of course you can," Tony said, "but why would you want to when you don't have to?" He finally gave up and let Pepper tie his tie.

"To make life easier for Pepper?"

Pepper shot Bruce a look, but said, "Oh, don't worry about me--"

"Hey, hey, hey," Tony said. "Yes, okay, it'll make life easier for Pepper, and don't think I didn't notice that you're both manipulating me here, so all right, cab it over. But call Happy when you're done and he can pick you up, since I strongly suspect Pepper won't let me leave the benefit before midnight."

Bruce nodded. "All right. Is the ticket under your name at will call, or mine?"

Tony stopped short and shot a glance at Pepper. "Um."

Pepper sighed and reached inside Tony's jacket, pulling out a paper envelope from the pocket. "Here it is," she said. Bruce took it from her with a nod of thanks.

"Did you put that in there?" Tony asked.

"Yes, and I told you about it."

"I don't remember that."

"I do, sir," JARVIS said.

"Yeah, well, no one asked you." Tony glared at the ceiling.

Bruce took advantage of Tony's distraction to duck into the elevator. "Thanks, JARVIS," he said.

"It is my great pleasure," the AI replied.

* * *

The August Wilson Theatre was maybe a mile from Stark Tower, and it took perhaps fifteen minutes to get there, in Friday night traffic. The marquee was lit up with the name of the musical--Little Shop of Horrors--and the area under the sign was overflowing with patrons. Large groups of people really didn't bother him more than the next lab-based nerdy introvert now, but still, that was enough to have him consider asking the cab driver to circle the block again. However, it would only get worse--both the cars and the crowd--so he paid the driver and got out.

The day had been warm, but the evening was cooling off fast, even though it was early September, although people seemed to be comfortable outside, but he headed for the doors. Inside it was no less crowded, although quieter due to the carpeting and the press of bodies. Bruce pushed forward until he was at the doors to the theater itself, holding out his ticket in exchange for a program and an offer of an escort to his seat, which he waved off. He'd checked the floor plan for the theater on his phone in the taxi; seat F118 was in the premium section on the floor, six rows from the stage, on the aisle. He'd never had seats anywhere near that good.

A few people were in the main house, perhaps forty or fifty, but not many were sitting just yet. He found his seat and laid his suit jacket--approved by Tony and Pepper--carefully over the back before looking around.

The theater was gorgeous, with plaster crenellations, round frescoes, gilt edges on the boxes, and a lovely proscenium arch, as well as golden embroidery on the curtains. Over the last five or six years his lifestyle hadn't afforded him much time to appreciate the finer points of culture, and while he'd rarely indulged even before that, he knew enough to recognize style and beauty when he saw it.

He sat down, pulled his glasses out of his pocket, and started reading the program, letting in a few people, although the seat next to him remained empty. He'd seen the movie with Rick Moranis and Steve Martin at some point and he vaguely knew what the show was about--a dorky guy and a killer plant, and if Tony meant that to be any sort of metaphor he was going to swap out his coffee for decaf--but he'd forgotten a lot.

He was skimming the bios of the main cast when he heard someone come up beside him and say, "Excuse me, I--Bruce?"

He looked up, startled; he'd recognized the voice, and the face matched--Betty Ross.

Not that she was supposed to be in New York--last time he'd checked she still taught at Culver--but there she was, alone except for the usher standing at her elbow. "Betty," he said, standing and pulling his glasses off.

She wore a medium green dress, the hem skimming the floor; she carried the matching wrap in one hand and held her program in the other. Her eyes were still on him, wide and dark blue and startled, and she was just as beautiful as the last time he'd seen her--maybe more beautiful, because she wasn't crying--over two years ago.

The usher coughed politely; they both turned, and she handed Betty her ticket before melting into the crowd.

"It's good to see you," Betty said, a long moment later.

"Yeah," Bruce said. "Yeah, it's good to see you too. You look well. Fine. Great, even. I'm sorry--I'm blocking your way to your seat."

She smiled. "I'm in 117."

He looked down at the back of his seat, which was still 118, so yes, they'd be sitting together for the entire performance. "Oh," he said.

He stepped into the aisle to let her through, and she sat, tucking the ticket into her program. She watched him sit back down before saying, "So you're in New York now?"

"Uh, yes," he said. "For the moment. Consulting. Sort of. Are you--are you in New York for--" He wracked his brain, trying to think if anything was going on, but nothing was coming to mind.

"An ACSB event," she said. "I won this ticket in a raffle." She gestured to the theater.

"Oh," he said. Which answered the question of whether she was waiting for seat 116, and raised others, including why there was a raffle including tickets to a Broadway play at a meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology--

--which had a rather simple answer. "Was the ticket donated by Stark Industries or the Maria Stark Foundation, by any chance?"

"Stark Industries," she said, "I think." Opening up her program again, she held out her ticket, which said "SI GENERAL" on the bottom.

As did his, which he hadn't noticed until just then. "I think we were set up," Bruce said, holding his ticket out to show her.

"How did you get your ticket?" she asked, brow furrowed.

"Tony Stark is my--" Boss? Friend? Lab-mate? "--coworker," he said. "He, uh, kind of bribed me into going. Said if he didn't use the ticket, he'd be causing a great insult to someone."

Betty blinked. "You work with Tony Stark?" She shook her head before he could answer. "Wait, I'm not actually surprised by that. I saw the news footage, with the--" She mimed catching something, and he nodded. "And you work with him now."

"For him, I guess. I'm a consultant for Stark Industries. Well, for Pepper, technically. But also literally with him, as, uh, we're in the same lab a lot."

"You work in the same lab as Tony Stark?"

"Yeah. Do you want to meet him?" he offered.

"I've met him," she said. "My--you know, military contractor."

Bruce nodded. "Your father." He could probably even meet General Ross and not lose control. It was really nice knowing that Tony and SI and their legal department had his back. And SHIELD, for that matter, although he trusted Tony more than Nick Fury. "How is he?"

"Fine," she said. "Well. We haven't spoken in a while, so I don't know."

He couldn't stop himself from asking, "A while?"

She looked at him, and then back at her program. "About two years."

So, since Harlem. Which reminded him--he dropped his gaze to her hands, and no, she wasn't wearing a ring. Well, actually, she was wearing a wedding band, but it was on her right hand, and he recognized the channel-set diamonds: it was her mother's ring. She hadn't married Samson, then. Good, he thought, and then felt guilty, because Samson would have been good for her, and he shouldn't be happy about that.

Certainly better than him.

Aw, come on, big guy, said the little voice in the back of his head that sounded like Tony Stark. You're awesome! You're a genius! You wouldn't be bad for her.

Also, say something.

"I'm sorry," he said, and she turned to him with a tight smile. Lightly, ever so lightly, her hand touched his where it rested on his knee, and then disappeared.

He sucked in a breath and held it.

"You look more relaxed than I've seen you in years," she said, and the moment passed.

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah. Stability is--it's working. And you--you look great. I said that already." Shut up, Banner, shut up. And that voice in his head was all him.

"Thank you," she said. "I'm still at Culver, although I've been offered a fellowship at Columbia. They were apparently impressed with my paper on mitochondrial matrices."

"You'll have to tell me about it," he said, but the lights dimmed and they turned to the stage.

The show was engrossing; Betty was obviously rapt from the first note from the pit. Bruce spent almost as much time watching her face--mostly out of the corner of his eye--as he did watching the action on stage. When Audrey II came out in its full-sized form and demanded more blood, they both gasped, and when Seymour fed the sadistic dentist's body to the plant, Betty actually reached out and grabbed his hand. He didn't say anything, just held on as long as she did.

Unfortunately, that was the end of the first act, and as the lights came up, she dropped his hand. "Sorry," she said. "The show's a little--weirdly intense."

"It is," he agreed. "And I'm very impressed by the Audrey II puppet. I mean, it's obviously a puppet, or animatronic thing, but it's . . . really creepy."

"Yes," she said, grinning. They both looked at the stage, where the curtains were ruffling slightly, probably as stagehands moved the set around. "Definitely better than the movie."

He was about to agree when a blood-curdling scream came from backstage. Uh-oh.

"THE PLANT, OH MY FUCKING GOD, IT'S THE PLANT, IT'S ALIVE OR SOMETHING!"

The curtain came crashing down, torn from the top, revealing the stage. Half the scenery was on its side and the Audrey II puppet was--moving? It rolled slowly across the stage, heading for a knot of actors trying to move a table and some chairs. One of the stagehands ran to stand in front of it and push on the base and then a tentacle came down, picked him up and threw him into Audrey II's mouth where it--

"Did the puppet just eat that guy?" Betty asked, horrified, grabbing Bruce's arm.

"Shit," he said. The audience was going wild, running for the exits en masse, and Audrey II was still rolling across the stage. He reached up and tugged at his tie, loosening it and pulling it over his head.. "Betty, I can help with this. I've got more control now--I'm not going to wreck everything. I can--I think I can save these people."

He turned to her as he shed his tie, jacket, and shirt, and she nodded. "Yeah," she said. "Okay. Can I do anything to help?"

Bruce unlocked his phone and flipped it to her, saying, "Send a text message to the group labeled 'Manhattan Project.' Hopefully some of them will come and help." He toed off his shoes and stripped off his belt.

"Okay." She paused, and then grabbed the front of his shirt and kissed him solidly. "Go help."

He froze for a moment--did she just--and then nodded. No time for that now. Closing his eyes, he reached down for the reserve of anger, deep in his chest, and let the Other Guy out.

* * *

Bruce woke up some time later, noting (in order) that he was in a bed, that he was naked, that sunlight was streaming through the window--none of which was surprising anymore--and that he wasn't alone, which was surprising.

Well, what was actually surprising was that Betty was curled up on top of the blankets, an afghan from the couch covering most of her, her feet and shoulders still visible.

It was his bedroom in Stark Tower; he recognized the walls and blankets right away. Even so, he blinked for a moment. Some of his favorite memories held the two of them waking up together in a bed.

But no, this was current; his head had the particular hollowed-out feeling that accompanied what Tony called a "Hulk hangover," and if it had been one of his memories, odds were that Betty wouldn't be wearing a black t-shirt and gray drawstring pants.

Although both items of clothing were his--the shirt said Physics is like sex; sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it--so maybe. She was still asleep, and he had to pee, so he rolled out of bed, grabbed another pair of pajama pants from the dresser, and ducked into the bathroom. The running water didn't mask the sound of his stomach rumbling, so he finished washing his hands and dug through drawers until he found an emergency stash of protein bars and gulped a couple down.

When he came out, her eyes were still closed, but they opened when he got into bed and pulled the covers over him. "Good morning," she said, and smiled.

"Hi," he said, and coughed.

Betty's face immediately transformed from sleep-soft and content to worried, and she reached behind her and found a water bottle. "Here," she said. "Tony left that for you."

Bruce nodded, and took a gulp of water. That explained how he'd gotten back to Stark Tower, but really nothing else. "What happened?" he asked, voice significantly less scratchy this time.

"You mean after you--" She spread her hands apart, indicating an expansion.

He nodded again.

"Well, you--he? He. He picked his way up to the stage--it was funny, actually, how delicate he was being--and picked up the Audrey II puppet, and then ran out of the theater with it."

Bruce winced. "What did I--he--wreck?"

"Other than the puppet, a few seats, and the doorways are a little bigger now than they were before. Tony said not to worry about it." She sat up, propped the pillow against the headboard, and rested against it, pulling her knees up. "Once he got to the street, I guess he smashed the puppet to bits and then stomped on it. That's about when the others showed up." She smiled. "Captain America brought me back to Stark Tower to wait while Natasha and Clint did crowd control, and Tony and Thor herded the Other Guy to Central Park and then home."

"So I see you've met all my friends," he said after he'd had a moment to digest. He set the water bottle down on the nightstand beside him and rearranged himself to match her, leaning against the headboard, blankets up around his waist.

Betty laughed. "They were all very nice to me, if a bit intense."

"That's a polite way to describe them," he said. "Did anyone ever figure out what caused the puppet to--animate?"

"Apparently a deranged fan found some sort of artifact and was going to have Audrey II eat Seymour for real in the second act," she said. "She was pretty upset about *NSYNC breaking up."

"Who?" Bruce asked.

"A boy band from--you know what, not important," she said, shaking her head. "Anyway, the Other Guy destroyed the puppet and Clint caught the fan, and the Avengers saved New York from mayhem yet again."

"Well, that's good," he said. He reached up and stretched, pointing his toes and arching his back--and didn't miss the way that heat flared in her eyes as he did so. "So, tell me about your conference?" he said.

"Before I do that, do you need anything? Tylenol, Advil, Aleve?"

He shook his head. "Actually, I feel surprisingly good. A little weird, but nothing like it used to be."

"What helped?"

Ahhh, there was Betty the Scientist. "Better control," he said. "Access to a lab, and a lab partner who doesn't really care if the Other Guy wrecks everything. I think I know more about my brain and endocrine system than I ever did."

"Oh," she said. "I'd like to--I mean--you don't have to, but--" She bit her lip.

"I'll show you the data, if you like," he said, grinning, and she swatted at his arm, gently. He caught her hand, rubbed his thumb against her wrist, and let her go, but she left her fingertips against his skin.

"Better control?" she said, and licked her lips.

He knew what she was insinuating, what she was offering, and, really, after all the years they'd been together and then last night, it wasn't unexpected. Except it was, and so instead of just kissing her, he said, "Um, yes."

Of course, she knew him, so she didn't even look disappointed that he hadn't caught the softball she'd lobbed at him. Instead, she said, "So you can get a little excited now?"

"More than a little."

"How'd you figure that out?" No jealousy; just Betty the Scientist.

Which was how he'd handle this. "Same way anything is ever figured out: the scientific method."

"Oh?" she said. "What were your observations?"

"I had been in multiple situations where my heart rate increased without transformation, as long as I wasn't actively angry or afraid."

"So your hypothesis?" She leaned in, one arm against his, and he could smell faint traces of her perfume, the same scent she'd used for years.

"Heart rate isn't the trigger, and the prediction was that sexual contact, in a non-dangerous situation, would not cause me to transform into the Other Guy." It was good that he'd been correct, because his heart rate was starting to speed up.

"What was your test?"

He laughed. "It wasn't all that scientific--just me, alone, in a Hulk-proof room, with my right hand." With JARVIS watching, but he wasn't going to mention that.

She chuckled. "And was it repeatable?"

"More often than I'd like to admit." And thinking about her more often than he'd like to admit, too.

"Mmm," she said, and rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. His bare shoulder. He hadn't bothered to pull on a shirt, and casual nudity rarely bothered him, but it wasn't casual when a beautiful woman was, well, leaning on his shoulder in his bed. "Any further experimentation needed?" she said.

"I would love to," he breathed, and then, finally, he turned his head and kissed her.

This, he remembered: early mornings before classes, lazy afternoons, and moonlit nights spent in bed, wrapped in and around her long limbs, her hair spread over their pillows. He pressed closer, nipping at her bottom lip, and she made a very familiar noise in the back of her throat.

And then his phone buzzed. He jerked back and frowned, grabbing it off the nightstand. It was Tony, and somehow he wasn't surprised. "Nope," he said, and hit the red button to dismiss the call.

"Not important?" Betty said.

"If it is, he'll get a hold of me some other way." Right then his phone buzzed again, one short, sharp bzzt that meant he'd gotten a text message. He sighed and tapped the screen, opening the text.

Condoms and lube in the drawers. If you need anything else, I'm sure I've got it somewhere.

"Tony!" he yelped. "JARVIS, tell Tony to fuck the hell off, and then you go away, too, until I tell you to come back."

"Of course, Dr. Banner."

Betty blinked. "He was watching us?"

"My fault; I forgot to tell JARVIS--the AI--to turn off the cameras." He set the phone aside and sat back against the headboard, breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth.

"Yes, but--" She shook her head. "They're gone now, right?"

Bruce nodded. He trusted JARVIS, if not Tony.

"Okay." She sat up and, in one swift movement, pulled her shirt over her head and threw it on the floor beside the bed. "Where were we?"

"Somewhere around there," he said, and helped her straddle his lap, hands on her bare waist.

She was tall enough--taller than him--that this position wouldn't work for very long, but he loved being able to use both hands at the same time, loved feeling the bumps of her spine under his fingertips. He especially loved being able to cup both of her breasts at once.

Loved her, but that wasn't a surprise; he'd never stopped. Probably never would: he'd loved her basically as long as he'd had any business loving anyone. Seven years apart hadn't changed that.

He slid his hands from her breasts to her rear, pulling her down against him, and she sighed, grinding down onto his erection. Her lips slid down to his jaw, and then along his neck, biting gently along the tendon. "Don't draw blood," he murmured.

"I know," she said--and of course she did. He grinned helplessly at the ceiling and buried his fingers in her hair, pulling her back up for a kiss.

He loved her hair, every silky strand of it, but he also loved her skin, smooth under his fingers and such a pale contrast to his own. When he hit the waistband of her pants, he worked a hand between them and tugged at the drawstring. She stopped mouthing along his collarbone, which was a brief disappointment, but then she slid off of him, untied the bow at her waist, and let the pants drop to the floor. He barely saw her underwear before she slipped it off as well, but he thought it was black. Not important, because now she was nude, and how could he have forgotten her legs?

She reached over and tugged at the edge of the sheet, and he obligingly flipped it back. "When did you put on pants?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh," he said. "Before you woke up."

"Well, take them off," she said, and actually crossed her arms and tapped one foot on the floor.

He laughed and stripped quickly, throwing the pants across the room. Holding the sheet up with one hand, he moved over and beckoned her back into the bed.

"You're so gorgeous," she said as she settled on her side, facing him, one hand reaching up to touch the curve of his shoulder. "I think I forgot that."

"Not as gorgeous as you," he said. "Come here." She fit herself against him, one leg over his; he ran a hand from the indent of her waist down to her hip, and then along her thigh to her knee.

Her hand at the back of his head drew him in for a kiss, and he went eagerly, letting her trace the inside of his lower lip with her tongue before sealing their mouths together. "Mmf," she said against him, and shifted a little. He knew that movement: she liked feeling his chest hair rasp across her nipples, so he twisted his torso a little, and she gasped and wriggled.

Ahhh. Some things hadn't changed, and he loved that. Discovery was all well and good, in its place, but mastery--that was his preference.

He trailed his fingers over the thin skin just inside her hip and said, "Yes?"

"Oh, my God, Bruce, if you don't put your fingers inside me right now I will scream," she said, her nails digging into his shoulders.

"Will you still scream if I do?" he asked, pressing the pad of one finger against her clit.

"Yessssssss," she hissed.

She was warm and slippery and soft under his fingers and tight around them, when he finally sank two into her. And scream she did, or at least cry out, when he pushed his thumb firmly against her clit and rubbed just the right spot inside her. Her leg pressed against his and she buried her face in his neck as he started moving his thumb and fingers in tandem, and she called out his name when she came, panting and shaking.

"Oh, Bruce," she said. "Oh." She raised her head and kissed him, sloppy and uncoordinated. "That was . . ."

"Yeah?" he said, unable to stop one side of his mouth from quirking.

"Yeah. Now you?" She reached down and wrapped her hand around his erection and squeezed. He groaned. "Please tell me you have condoms," she said.

"I don't--no, wait, I do," he said, remembering Tony's text. Reaching past Betty, he opened the nightstand drawer and--Jesus, Tony, he thought, as the drawer almost exploded with various types of condoms and lube. He picked through the pile until he found a brand and type he recognized, and held it up. She nodded, and he shut the drawer.

A little bit of shifting, and she lay on her back; he knelt between her thighs, ripped the packet open, and rolled the condom on. "Ready?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, yes please," she said, reaching out for him.

As he sank in slowly, giving her time to adjust, she wrapped her legs around his waist and, oh, no, he hadn't forgotten how that felt, but memory was nothing compared to reality, her ankles locked behind his back. And even that paled before the--ohh--the close, hot pleasure of being inside her, watching her face from mere inches away.

She bit her lip and tipped her chin up when his hips met hers, and he asked, "Good?"

"Oh, God, so good--don't stop! Keep going!"

"Okay." And he did, starting with long, slow strokes, bending over to take her nipple in his mouth. She gasped and arched her back, tightening her legs around him, and he ground against her for a moment when he bottomed out. She felt so amazing around him, and everything--her face, her body, the way she smelled--frayed his control: not over the Other Guy, but over his ability to make this last more than a couple of minutes.

Well, he'd better make it a really good two minutes, then. He used one hand to tilt her hips to--if he remembered correctly--just the right angle, and picked up the pace a little.

He had remembered correctly, if the noises she made were any indication, and he lost himself in her chorus of, "Yes--right there--oh, God--more, Bruce, more--so close--" Because if he could just--hold--on--

"Oh, fuck, yessssssss!"

--she'd come, and clench around him, and--

"Oh, God, Betty--"

There it was, pleasure and bliss and emptying of self that had nothing to do with the mechanics of the act. His vision whited out, and he panted against her skin, feeling her heart pound almost as strongly as his did in his own chest. He felt her lift a hand and then thread her fingers through his hair, and he smiled. "Good?" he said.

"So good," she said. "So good."

"Mmm," he said, and kissed her breast.

"You asked about the conference," Betty said sometime later, stroking his hair again.

Bruce had gotten up, disposed of the condom, and come back to bed, resting in her arms again, and had no intention of moving for as long as possible. "I did," he said. "Are you missing anything right now?"

"Nothing important until one-thirty," she said. "and that's a panel. Do you want to come along?"

"What's it about?" he asked, lifting his head to look at her.

"Molecular motors," she said. "I'd love it if you were there."

He smiled, thinking of the last time he'd seen her on a panel at a conference. "Is this going to be anything like the cytoskeletal dynamics symposium in 2004?" She'd started out quiet and low-key, but at the end she'd eviscerated some jerk's entire line of research with three short, intense sentences. It was still the hottest thing he'd ever seen her do.

"I'm sure they hope not," she said, and grinned.

He grinned back. "I'll be there."

"Good," she said. "And maybe after that we can get dinner? And talk?"

"I'd love to have dinner with you," he said, "but won't we have time to talk between now and then?"

"Not if I have my way," she said, and reached under the covers.

He just groaned.

(the end)