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Everything He (Never Thought He) Could Have

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If given the chance, Tony Stark would sleep with any one of the Avengers. Collectively or individually. If anyone on the team offered, he’d probably say yes before they finished talking.

 

That being said, Tony was not stupid enough to be the first to approach any of his teammates.  He worked with two scary as fuck assassins, a demigod, a super soldier, and a man with breathtaking anger issues.  Any one of them could snap him in half before he finished saying the word ‘fuck’.  Besides, the last thing he wanted was to mess up a good thing.  The Avengers had finally pulled together as a team, and if Tony was sure of one thing, it was that he would screw it up if he tried to ask for anything more than what the others were willing to give.

 

So to avoid any possibility of completely humiliating himself in front of his new teammates, Tony threw himself into his work.  Iron Man suits, weapons and armor and transportation for his teammates, upgrades and tech for SHIELD and Stark Industries.  He didn’t give himself time to think, much less open his mouth and do something stupid.  Like proposition Captain America for gay sex.

 

The Tower was large enough, and the work kept him busy enough that he hardly ever saw any of the others, generally keeping company with JARVIS and his bots.  On occasion, Bruce would swing by, mostly to tentatively request some new piece of equipment or collateral data for whatever experiment he was working on.  Tony would blink up at him, process the request, then nod and go back to his work.  JARVIS took care of the actual ordering and delivery.  In fact, the AI was pretty much left in charge of ensuring that everybody in the Tower got what they needed.

 

Now and again, Tony would breeze through what he secretly referred to as the Avengers Floor, where the communal kitchen, living room, and gym were all located.  He never stayed for long, mostly pausing just long enough to tease Bruce, verbally spar with Clint, avoid Natasha, and push as many of Steve’s buttons as he could in under five minutes.  Then he was gone again, heading for his lab, his company, or on very rare occasions, his bed.

 

So really, Tony had an excellent excuse for not realizing what was happening under his roof until nearly two months after the last of the team – Natasha and Steve – had moved in.  He had finally caught up on everything, even the SI stuff that Pepper had been throwing at him, and the CEO had told him, quite firmly, that he wasn’t allowed back in the lab until he’d spent at least twelve hours either socializing or sleeping, preferably the latter.  And JARVIS was obviously conspiring with her, because suddenly, none of his codes or overrides worked.

 

Grumpy, he headed upstairs, pausing briefly at the Avengers Floor just to make sure that nothing that required his attention was likely to happen in the next several hours.  He just wanted a shower, food, and sleep.  Not necessarily in that order.

 

He found the Avengers in the living room, watching an old black and white movie – African Queen? – on the television.  Pausing in the doorway, he let his eyes sweep over his teammates, his lips dipping in a small frown as what he was seeing finally sunk in.

 

Steve was seated on the left side of the couch, with Natasha on his lap, curled up against his chest, her feet stretched out across Clint’s legs.  The archer was settled against their resident god of thunder, his hands pressing gently into the delicate arches of Natasha’s feet.  Thor had one arm stretched along the back of the couch behind Clint. The other one was wrapped firmly around Bruce, who appeared to be dozing, his glasses knocked askew on his nose as the light from the television played across his face.  Phil, the last of the group, was settled on the floor, his back against the couch and his side pressed against Clint’s legs from ankle to knee.  He had removed his suit jacket and tie for the occasion, and even rolled up his shirt sleeves, paperwork spread out on the floor in front of him.  Natasha’s hand was stroking carefully through his thinning hair, occasionally scratching lightly down to the nape of his neck.

 

The six of them there, curling up together while they watched a movie, made a beautiful picture, and Tony felt his breath catch in his throat.  Swallowing quietly, he slipped back out the way he’d come, heading back for the elevators, which opened silently at his approach.  Once inside, he slumped against the back wall.  “Penthouse, JARVIS,” he mumbled.

 

“As you wish, sir,” the AI replied neutrally.

 

Tony smiled bitterly to himself.  “How long?” he asked as he stepped out into the living room of his own floor.

 

“Sir?” JARVIS asked.

 

Tony shook his head.  “Never mind, it’s not important,” he muttered dismissively.  Deciding that all he wanted to do right then was sleep, he headed for the bedroom, stripping as he went.  “J, lock down my floor, would you?  I don’t want to be disturbed unless there’s a call to assemble.”

 

“Of course, sir,” the AI replied agreeably.  “Shall I inform the others that you are not to be disturbed?”

 

Tony rolled his eyes.  “No, JARVIS,” he replied wearily.  “I’m pretty sure they won’t need me for anything, so just let them do what they’re doing, all right?”  And it was true; the Avengers didn’t need him.  He was just a consultant, after all, their source of funding and tech, and an occasional teammate, as much as he hated the thought.  Anything more than that was completely out of the question, and Tony tried not to let it bother him.  He knew exactly who he was and what people saw when they looked at him, because he had spent years painstakingly crafting a wall around himself so that people would only see what he wanted them to.  And what they saw was a genius billionaire asshole, who had only become one of the good guys out of some misguided attempt at clearing a ledger that was practically dripping with red.

 

Not bothering to strip off his pants, Tony collapsed on top of the covers with a soft groan as his body stretched out along the length of the bed, making muscles ache and twinge now that they were horizontal instead of bent over a worktable.  His stomach grumbled, but he ignored it, too tired to bother getting back up.  Not even the thought of a long, hot shower could drag him from his over-sized bed now, and he closed his eyes, dropping off quickly.

 

He should’ve known it was too good to be true, as the nightmares started almost immediately, visions of flying and falling and screaming and dying racing behind his eyelids, blending into each other in a cacophony of colors and sounds that had him struggling upright not even two hours later, his heart hammering in his chest and his body covered in a sheen of sweat. 

 

JARVIS was talking, and Tony latched onto the familiar voice as he struggled to get his breathing under control, his heart in this throat, threatening to choke him.  JARVIS meant safety, meant he was home.

 

“You are in your bedroom in the Avengers Tower.  It is eight thirty-nine in the evening.  It is sixty-four degrees out, with a chance of scattered showers later.  You have been asleep for one hour and thirty-two minutes,” JARVIS droned, his voice pitched to calm Tony down more quickly as he repeated the phrase over and over until Tony managed to settle a bit.

 

“I’m good, J,” he gasped out at last, his breath shuddering out from him with a full-body shiver.  “Start the hot water, would you?  I need a shower.”  There was no point in trying to go back to bed now, not when the images were right there, behind his eyes, ready to come back the moment he tried to sleep.  Maybe the shower would relax him enough to make another attempt, though he doubted it.

 

Stumbling blearily in the general direction of his bathroom, Tony winced as the lights came on when he entered the large tiled room.  Without prompting, JARVIS dimmed the lights and started the water running, the steady rush of noise almost comforting in its rhythm.  Tony stripped out of his pants and boxers and stepped into the shower, the heat and patter of water against his skin soothing him almost immediately.

 

He swayed for a moment, just luxuriating in the heat and comfort, then reached for the shampoo.  His legs were still a bit wobbly from his small panic attack, but there was no way in hell he was going to sit down in a bath right after dreaming about desert sand and cold stars, of water in his nose and mouth and no air in his lungs.  He shuddered again, his breaths speeding up as his heart rate increased.  His hand scrabbled up his chest, grabbing at the flesh where his arc reactor used to be, before Extremis had made it possible to restore what had been lost years before in a cave in Afghanistan.

 

“Sir, I must ask that you regulate your breathing, or protocol will mandate that I report your distress to Doctor Banner and Captain Rogers,” JARVIS stated firmly.  Tony shook his head fiercely; the last thing he needed was to disturb them only to have to see their pity and disgust when they came up here to find him suffering from something so insignificant as phantom memories left over from a fucking nightmare.

 

Pressing his hands flat against the front of the shower, his arms locked, he dropped his head between his shoulders and worked on controlling his breathing, angry with himself.  Under his skin, Extremis snapped and pulsed, warming him from the inside out.  It wasn’t dangerous, not after his corrections, so he wasn’t in any danger of blowing himself – and a good chunk of the building – up any time soon, but the heat served as a reminder that Extremis was there, sunk under his skin, imbedded in his DNA.  With a final shuddering breath that absolutely did not end in a sob, Tony fell quiet, his eyes open and staring blankly at the floor of the shower as the water poured over his head and shoulders, dripping into his eyes and off his chin in small rivulets.

 

It took another couple of minutes before he reached for the soap, working on autopilot now.  JARVIS didn’t say anything else, so Tony assumed that his baseline had leveled out sufficiently to not raise any further alarms.

 

He finished his shower in minutes and climbed out, drying himself off efficiently with one of the massive fluffy towels and wrapping himself in a thick red robe before stepping out into the bedroom and padding barefoot towards the kitchen, determined to get some coffee, and maybe some food.  JARVIS had been around for long enough that the coffee was already percolating when Tony walked into the kitchen, and he grinned.  “Bless you, JARVIS,” he murmured.

 

“You are most welcome, sir.  The coffee will be ready in two minutes and seventeen seconds,” the AI informed him smugly.  Tony chuckled at his sassy AI, tension bleeding out of him with a long sigh as he settled himself, leaning against the counter, his feet crossed at the ankles as he contemplated the kitchen floor.  His mind, desperate to focus on something other than his nightmares, finally settled on the way his friends – were they friends? – had looked, curled up lazily on the couch on the common floor, enjoying each other’s company as much as the movie.

 

“How long has the puppy pile been going on?” Tony asked out loud, knowing that JARVIS would answer him honestly.

 

“If you are referring to the team gatherings, sir, then they have been occurring since shortly after the team moved into the Tower.  Agent Romanov stated that its purpose was to catch Captain Rogers up on the modern world.  Doctor Banner was the last to join the puppy pile, as it were, sir,”  JARVIS replied promptly.  There was a moment of hesitation, and then JARVIS added, “I believe that they would be…pleased, if you were to join them, sir.”

 

Tony scoffed as he grabbed his filled mug of coffee from the dispenser.  “Uh huh.  You said Romanov started it, right?” he asked, sipping at the hot beverage and rummaging around in the fridge for leftovers.  There was some leftover Italian, and he figured that would work as well as anything.

 

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS confirmed.

 

Tony nodded.  “Okay.  And then Barton was probably next, following Romanov.  And Agent was either following those two, or Rogers asked him.  Thor would have joined in on his own, as well.  Who asked Bruce?”  Because he was pretty sure that the mild-mannered physicist would never have joined their little team bonding nights if he hadn’t been asked.

 

“Both Mister Odinson and Captain Rogers attempted to procure Doctor Banner’s presence,” JARVIS replied.  “However, he did not join them for the first time until after Director Coulson spoke to him.  I am unaware of what was said.” He didn’t sound happy about that, and Tony growled under his breath.  He really needed to sit down and talk with Coulson about what was and wasn’t acceptable in the Tower.  Messing with JARVIS was way over the line of acceptability.  How the hell was Tony supposed to protect them if they just shut JARVIS down on a whim?

 

“JARVIS, override code Theta-Alpha-three-two-nine,” Tony snapped.  There was a whir and a click as JARVIS accepted the new directive and upgraded his protocols.  Tony smiled grimly to himself; let Coulson try and hack his way through that.  He had effectively just given JARVIS permission to not only protect himself from unauthorized access from anybody that wasn’t Tony, but to attack back in kind if he wished.  And if JARVIS was anything like him, he’d take advantage of his new capabilities just as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

 

Tony had just settled down to eat when JARVIS alerted him that Bruce was requesting permission to enter.  He blinked, frowning, but gestured idly for the AI to let the other man in.  The elevator chimed a second later, and Bruce wandered in hesitantly.  “Tony?” he asked carefully, shifting uneasily near the entrance.

 

Tony whirled around, plastering his most charming public smile on as he greeted the hesitant scientist. It wasn’t even entirely feigned; he genuinely liked the other man, more than he’d like to admit.  “Brucie!” he exclaimed, gesturing for the other man to step closer.  “Come on in! What brings you up to my humble abode?” he inquired cheerfully, knowing that his smile didn’t reach his eyes.

 

Bruce eyed him warily, but settled down on the barstool next to him anyhow, glancing at his cup of coffee and the sub he’d pulled from the fridge.  “Ah, I tried your lab first,” he admitted, not answering Tony’s question, his eyes darting down to stare at the countertop.  “JARVIS informed me that you were up here when I asked.”

 

Tony nodded amicably, breaking his sub in half and handing half of it to a bemused Bruce.  “He’s usually right,” he agreed.  Bruce glanced at him briefly in consternation before his eyes dropped again, his fingers picking uneasily at the sandwich.  Tony sighed. “I’ve been banned from the lab for the next few hours,” he admitted.  “It’s something that Pepper insisted on after the third time JARVIS had to call her because I passed out in the workshop.”

 

Even with Pepper out of the picture now, she was still his CEO and a good friend, so he had never removed her permissions regarding their agreement.  This was the first time she’d pulled rank in the seven months since they’d been separated, though, and the sleep had made him feel somewhat better, as short as it had been, so he’d let her keep her privileges.  For the moment, at least.

 

Bruce nodded.  “You stopped by the common room, but didn’t come in,” he mumbled.  Tony frowned at him; he’d been asleep, so how could he have possibly known?  “Natasha,” Bruce explained, seeing Tony’s confusion.  The genius nodded; of course it had been Natasha who had noticed him lurking in the doorway.  He just hoped that she hadn’t realized what was going on inside his head, though he wouldn’t put it past the super spy.

 

Tony shrugged.  “Yeah.  I needed food and sleep, so I just glanced in to make sure everybody was still alive, then came up here,” he deflected.  There was no reason for Bruce to know that he had felt like an outsider in his own home.  It wasn’t the other man’s fault.  Bruce was probably the only one of all the Avengers that could tolerate Tony for more than a few minutes at a time.  Tony wouldn’t do or say anything that might jeopardize that. Not on purpose, at least.

 

Bruce nodded in acceptance, obviously taking note of the dark circles under Tony’s eyes and the damp hair that was still dripping water down his cheeks and neck.  Tony probably should have dried off a bit more thoroughly, but he hadn’t exactly been expecting company tonight.  He smiled self-deprecatingly.  “Sleep didn’t go so well, so I figured a shower and food might help before I tried again.”  He actually had no intention whatsoever of going back to sleep, but Bruce didn’t need to know that, either.

 

Bruce made a low noise, then took a bite of his sub.  Tony smiled, relieved, and did the same.  They ate mostly in silence, with Bruce rising only once to get himself a bottle of water and to refill Tony’s cup with fresh coffee.  Tony basked in the other man’s presence, glad that he was here despite the fact that he was pretty sure Avengers Movie Night was still happening downstairs.

 

When he finished eating, Tony yawned widely.  “Well, thanks for visiting, Brucie,” he murmured, rinsing his dishes and putting them in the dishwasher before wiping his hands dry and flashing the other man an affectionate smile.  He yawned again.  “I think I’m going to get some shut-eye.”  He was lying through his teeth, of course, but Bruce didn’t know that.

 

Wry brown eyes gazed at him warmly, and Bruce nodded.  “Yes, I rather think you are,” Bruce agreed quietly.  Moving forward, he turned Tony around and gave him a gentle nudge, the billionaire stumbling forward under his guidance.  “And I’m going to make sure, as your doctor, that you actually get to sleep.”

 

Tony twisted, turning to look back at Bruce, though he continued to move forward at Bruce’s gentle prompting.  “Aww…you do care, Brucie!” he crooned.

 

Bruce rolled his eyes.  “Yes, yes,” he murmured back.  “And you’re a sweet-talker.  Come on,” he said, steering Tony into the bedroom, more confident in the role of doctor than friend.  With a huff, Tony tossed himself face down on the bed, burying his face in the pillow and flapping one hand in the air.

 

“Okay, I’m here, I’m in bed, going to sleep now.  You can go,” he said pointedly.  A moment later, he let out a small surprised sound as the bed dipped, rolling him towards the other man.  He glared up at him with one eye, but didn’t otherwise protest.

 

Bruce looked down at him, amused.  “Go to sleep, Tony,” he suggested.

 

Tony grinned cheekily up at him.  “Sure,” he agreed.  “If you’ll sleep with me.”  He deliberately inserted the innuendo, well aware of how uncomfortable it made the other man.  Normally, Bruce would either blush and divert the conversation, or if he was in a particularly cheerful mood, he’d occasionally flirt back in that quiet, serious manner of his.  The man had a fantastic poker face.

 

“If that’s what it takes, Tony,” Bruce replied easily.  Tony froze, staring up at the other man wide-eyed.  Bruce grinned, his shaggy hair falling down into his eyes.  He was adorable, and Tony swallowed, pressing his face back into the pillow to keep the other man from seeing whatever it was that was flashing across his face just then.

 

The mattress shifted again, and Tony shifted with it, peering up at the other man, his breath catching when he realized that Bruce was stripping.  He unbuttoned his shirt, removed his belt, and stripped down to his boxers.  Bruce was completely unselfconscious about his body, having been seen in various states of undress by the entire team at one time or another, not to mention anybody who had ever seen him or caught him on camera after a transformation.  Tony had asked him, once, if he’d ever been arrested for public indecency.  Steve had scolded him for being crude, and Bruce had successfully escaped the room without answering.  Tony hadn’t asked again; if he really wanted to know, he could have JARVIS look it up, he was sure.

 

Once he was in just his boxers, Bruce turned around and raised expectant eyebrows at Tony.  “Well?” he asked.  “Are you planning on sleeping on top of the covers?”

 

Tony shrugged as best he could, rolling over onto his back and adjusting until he was spread-eagled on the bed.  He still only took up about half of it.  “On top, underneath, doesn’t really matter to me,” he replied honestly.

 

Bruce just shrugged, then tugged the covers back on his half before nudging Tony into wriggling until he could get the rest of the comforter and sheets down.  Crawling in, Bruce snagged the covers and flipped them back over the two of them before settling down.  “Sleep, Tony,” he ordered firmly.

 

Tony scowled, but closed his eyes obediently, well aware that Bruce could be just as stubborn as him when he wanted to be.  Besides, he was pretty sure that he was considerably more tired than Bruce was, and the yawn a moment later confirmed it.  Tony’s eyes slid shut as the exhaustion hit him.

 

Without conscious thought, Tony turned onto his side and reached out for Bruce, gripping his wrist.  He didn’t want Bruce to leave him to his nightmares, and the other man was probably just waiting for him to fall asleep before sneaking back downstairs, or maybe even into the lab.  He thought he heard a low chuckle and a fond, “Good night, Tony,” before his exhaustion caught up to him and he dropped off to sleep.

 

As had happened earlier in the evening, the nightmares came upon him swiftly, causing him to thrash under the covers.  Hands clamped down on his wrists, and Tony choked on a scream, his eyes flying open as he struggled to free himself.  As quickly as they had arrived, the hands were gone, and Tony rolled, still tangled in a cocoon of sheets.  The sudden pain of falling out of the bed and hitting the floor startled him back into the here and now, and Tony gasped, staring up at a surprised Bruce with wide, panicked eyes.

 

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Bruce murmured, approaching him carefully, like he was approaching a wild animal.  Tony shrank back in on himself, horrified as hot tears spilled down his cheeks, his breathing erratic and out of control.  “Tony, look at me.”  Bruce’s tone was firm, and Tony found himself obeying, swallowing heavily.  “Breathe with me, Tony,” Bruce said, taking several deep, measured breaths.  “Come on, Tony, you can do this.”

 

It took a few more gentle encouragements before the meaning of Bruce’s words sank through, and Tony groaned miserably as he tried to force himself to take deep breaths, releasing them slowly, his breath hitching with sobs.  After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, Tony got his breathing more or less under control.  He realized that Bruce was kneeling in front of him, looking at him with a worried, concerned gaze, and he moaned loudly, dropping his head onto his knees so he wouldn’t have to look at the other man.

 

“Tony, it’s all right,” Bruce murmured, a hand coming to rest carefully on Tony’s left shoulder. When the brunette didn’t shrug it off, he gripped a bit tighter, and his other hand came up to rest on Tony’s other shoulder.  “It’s okay, it was just a nightmare,” Bruce soothed.  “We all have them.”

 

Tony snorted; was that supposed to be reassuring?  Because if it was, then Bruce’s bedside manner sucked.  A moment later, he found himself pulled against a firm chest, and he revised his opinion slightly, sagging into the offered support.  Fingers were pressing on the back of his neck, rubbing gently as he got his breathing under control, betrayed by a few last hiccups before falling silent, the occasional shudder wracking through his frame.

 

When Bruce deemed him sufficiently calm, he pulled back a little bit.  Tony let him go, scrubbing angrily at his eyes and cheeks.  He sat back with a long sigh, leaning against the bedframe and closing his eyes in resignation.  “Thanks,” he murmured.  “I’m all right now, if you want to go. I doubt I’ll be going back to sleep anytime soon, and I’m sure you have better things to be doing than to babysit me.”

 

Bruce snorted, coaxing Tony into cracking his eyes open to look over at the other man.  “It’s not a hardship, Tony,” the other man murmured wryly.  “It was this or go back down and watch Monty Python.”

 

Tony opened his eyes all the way, mock indignation spreading across his face. “And what’s wrong with Monty Python?” he demanded.  “It’s a classic!”

 

Bruce regarded him silently, as if attempting to determine whether or not he was serious.  “You and I have very different opinions on what qualifies as classic,” he said at last.  Tony rewarded him with a small chuckle for the attempt at levity, and Bruce quirked a self-deprecating smile back at him.  “But really, Tony, what’s wrong?  Do you always have this much trouble sleeping?”

 

Tony shrugged, looking down at his raised knees, feeling vulnerable. It wasn’t a feeling he coped with very well, as it tended to make him more honest than normal, unable to come up with the sarcastic quips that he so often used to deflect attention from the fact that he wasn’t actually answering the question posed to him.

 

“I don’t sleep well,” he mumbled.  “After Afghanistan, it was really hard,” he admitted.  “It got better when I had Pepper, but…” he trailed off miserably.

 

“But Pepper’s gone,” Bruce finished for him, his voice soft, and Tony nodded, unable to swallow past the lump in his throat.  Strong fingers pressed gently but insistently beneath his chin, forcing him to look up until he met Bruce’s sympathetic eyes.  “I’m sorry that I can’t keep the dreams at bay,” he apologized.

 

Tony shook his head.  “Not your fault,” he mumbled.  “Pepper couldn’t, either.  The only times I wouldn’t dream – or have nightmares – were either after I was so exhausted I passed out completely, or when she…you know what?  Never mind,” he said abruptly, cutting himself off before he begged for something that he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be getting. 

 

He pushed himself to his feet and turned back to the bed, crawling in.  “I’ll be fine, Bruce.  Good night,” he dismissed, pulling the covers up and over his head so he was wrapped in a little cave of his own making.

 

The bed dipped again, and Tony just pushed his head deeper into the pillow.  “Or when Pepper what, Tony?” Bruce asked, his voice low with worry.  Tony could picture him now, twisting his hands together or nibbling lightly on his lower lip as he thought.  Tony had given away too much already, and Bruce was smart; he’d have it figured out in no time.

 

Tony counted silently in his head.  Sure enough, by the time he’d reached seven, Bruce let out a small, “Oh.”

 

Tony shoved the covers down just far enough that he could glare at Bruce.  “Yeah, oh,” he retorted sarcastically.  “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to try and get some sleep.  Alone,” he stressed, turning his back on the other man, even as he wanted to curl up around him and never let go.

 

There was a warm line of heat above him, and then Bruce dropped on top of Tony, who grunted at the sudden weight, squirming around until he was on his back, glaring up at Bruce.  “You know, Doc, for somebody who wants me to get some sleep, you’re making a terrible job of it,” he pointed out grumpily.  Not that he’d actually intended on sleeping, but he would’ve appreciated being left to his delusions.

 

Bruce was watching him carefully, his face rather close to Tony’s.  Tony swallowed, and Bruce’s eyes traveled down to his throat.  The other man’s tongue flicked out against his lower lip, and Tony’s eyes locked on.  Bruce’s lips curved into a faint smirk, and Tony scowled.  “You did that on purpose,” he accused.

 

“Yes,” Bruce agreed mildly, shifting to the side so that he was lying next to Tony and tugging on the shorter man until Tony turned to face him.  “I had to know for sure,” he murmured.  Tony frowned, torn between anger and embarrassment.  Before he could figure out whether he wanted to kick Bruce out of the bed or pull him closer, the decision was made for him.

 

Bruce’s lips were warm and dry against his, and Tony froze, his eyes staring blankly into the face of his teammate and science partner.  He trembled, not used to getting exactly what he wanted.  It was that thought that gave him the strength to pull away, to curl up with his hands on Bruce’s shoulders, keeping him at a distance while holding him in place at the same time.  He licked his own lips, tasting the faint tang of tea and honey.  He shuddered.

 

“Tony?” Bruce asked, back to being the concerned friend.  He withdrew slightly, trying to pull back.  Tony’s fingers tightened against his will, and Bruce stopped.  “Tony?” he asked again, obviously confused.

 

Tony swallowed.  “Why?” he asked, hating how hoarse his voice sounded.

 

Bruce considered him carefully for a moment.  “Why this?” he asked.  “Why now? Or why you?”

 

“Yes,” Tony agreed.  Bruce’s lips twitched upwards in amusement.

 

“Because you want this.  Because I want this.  Because you’re my friend and you need to sleep. Because I care.  We all do.  Take your pick,” he shrugged.

 

Tony frowned.  He didn’t want a pity fuck, not from Bruce.  Not from any of the Avengers.  If all he wanted was a one-night stand, he’d go find some random woman – or man – to bring home, and avoid risking jeopardizing his tenuous relationship with the other Avengers.  He shook his head.  “No,” he said, as firmly as possible, hating the way his voice threatened to wobble on that simple word.

 

Bruce gazed at him discerningly, and Tony fought to not turn away.  He didn’t want Bruce to think that he was rejecting him out of hand, but he wouldn’t risk his friendship with the other man for anything.  Bruce was the first person he’d found who could not only keep up with him, but who also had an unending well of patience with him.  Tony knew that he was difficult – too stubborn, too reckless, too pushy, too clingy – and the fact that Bruce not only put up with him, but actively encouraged him, meant more than he’d ever admit to out loud.  If he actually believed in soul mates, he was pretty sure Bruce would be his.

 

“You do realize that this isn’t pity, don’t you, Tony?” Bruce asked steadily.  Tony scowled, hating that he was so easy to read.  He shook his head again, and Bruce sighed, dropping his head down onto Tony’s shoulder.  “All right, maybe this wasn’t the best time to bring it up,” he admitted grudgingly.  He flopped down onto the bed, one arm slinging over Tony’s chest and resting there, a warm, solid weight.  “I’ll try and convince you another time, but for now, just go to sleep, okay?  Please?” he pleaded.

 

Bruce didn’t move except to slip closer, resting his head on Tony’s chest, under his chin, his salt-and-pepper curls tickling Tony’s chin and collarbone, his arm a solid, heavy weight across his body, anchoring him.  Tentatively, Tony reached one hand up and curled his fingers into Bruce’s hair, not holding or pushing, just resting there.  Bruce sighed a warm breath across Tony’s chest, and the genius shuddered, his eyes slipping closed.  Sleep, this time, came much easier, and if Tony had any more nightmares, he didn’t remember them.