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Carry Me Home

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“So, this is...terrible,” Bruce said, and Tony startled, tumbler falling from his hand to shatter against the floor as he scrambled ungainfully to his feet. He staggered, reaching out to brace himself on the back of the chair, only for the chair to swing out, roll away, and he was falling headfirst towards the shattered glass and remaining tatters of his dignity--and, okay, yeah, he probably deserves to fall face first in shattered glass, the way the clusterfuck of the last few days have gone, but--

He stopped, caught by a pair of strong, squared hands, rough and brown from the sun. Strong arms braced him, and Tony smelled curry and jasmine and, oddly enough, Orange Tang mixed with the ozone smell of Gamma radiation and pure, male sweat. Tony shuddered, something deep in his chest sliding back into place, like a new arc reactor (He hadn’t had a reactor in his chest in months, that felt like years--).

“Easy,” Bruce said, here and solid and real like he hadn’t been missing from months, ever since the utter shitshow that was Slovokia and Ultron.

“Easy,” Tony said. “I have been called many things in my life, but ‘easy’...has been at least half of them, but they use words like “player” and “playboy” and “horndog”, which is sexist, if you ask me.”

“Tony,” Bruce said, a small huff of laughter coloring his words, like he had missed Tony, too, and Tony couldn’t stop himself from staring. Bruce was here, in Tony’s penthouse in what used to be the Avengers Tower, rebuilt so no trace of the damage Ultron had done remained (though Tony could see it, like a secret message written in lemon juice on a piece of white paper, it faded in from the edge, burning). He wouldn’t stay, probably wouldn’t stay (nobody, in Tony’s experience, really stayed,) but that was later, and for now--

“You’re here,” Tony said, and, whoops he said that out loud, because Bruce’s face is changing--not green, thank goodness, but Tony was even beginning to miss Jolly Green and realized he wouldn’t mind ‘talking’ to the Hulkster, either.

Hell, this drunk, they could probably carry out a conversation at equal levels of incoherence.

But no, Bruce’s face, which had always carried that air of bemused tolerance for the world around him, had softened further, gaining a weight of sadness that had no business here, in Tony’s shame spiral.

“Yeah,” Bruce said. “I’m here.” He frowned, looking Tony over. “And you’re wasted. How are you speaking, right now?”

Bruce still hadn’t let go of Tony, bearing more of Tony’s weight than he must realize, and it’s enough of a shock that Tony’s honest--one-hundred percent completely, brutally honest.

“Latent functional alcoholism,” Tony said, the words tripping over his tongue. “I was just a ‘functional alcoholic,’ before Afghanistan and everything, but getting a car-battery hooked to your ticker makes you re-evaluate your lifestyle. But, hey, look Ma! No arc-reactor! No heavy metal poisoning, no pre-existing condition--just me, making a truly, wonderfully terrible decision, leaping from that bandwagon in a single bound, but hey--I’ve never been a follower.”

“No, you haven’t,” Bruce said, shaking his head slowly. He didn’t seem affected by the torrent of drunken confession, but then again, Bruce had always been pretty unflappable since Tony had known him--save for that one, truly ‘flapped’ moment, when he left. “But I can smell you--what’s your blood alcohol level?.” Bruce asked.

Tony opened his mouth to ask Jarvis, he’d always monitored Tony’s levels before, and stopped when he remembered that Jarvis was gone, mind-melded with an alien rock to form Vision. So, Tony shrugged expansively, and Bruce nodded.

“Right. Let’s get you some water.” He turned, and started to lead Tony to the bar, where a small refrigerator stocked not only bottles of water (recycled and recyclable plastic, renewable water source), but Mexican coke (“It’s made with sugar cane, Pepper, not High Fructose Corn Syrup!”) and Mountain Dew (“Honestly, Tony, you’re not in college anymore”), and something called Bovonto, an India-based soft-drink that Bruce had developed a taste for (“It’s kinda like grape soda.” “You would like grape soda, you heathen”).

Bruce sat Tony down by the bar and grabbed three bottles of water from the fridge, lining them up on the bar in front of Tony. Tony frowned at them, and then frowned at Bruce, who was holding a bottle of the Bovonto in his hands, looking at it like it had saved the world on several occasions, not Tony.

(Maybe it had, for all Tony knew. He didn’t touch artificial grape anything so, you now. There could be something he missed. In theory).

Bruce popped the cap and drank, closing his eyes and licking his lips. After a moment, he looked over to catch Tony staring, but all he did was nod at the water, and say, “Drink those.”

Tony could argue. He was a grown-ass man, and well familiar with the old song-and-dance of the stumbling drunk (except he hadn’t stumbled, because Bruce had been there to catch him. That felt like a metaphor for his life--he stumbled, until Bruce was there. He’s been stumbling since Bruce left).

Tony picked up the first bottle, twisting off the cap with only a little struggle, losing only a little water onto his shirt, and drank deeply. He was very thirsty, all of a sudden, and the water tasted clean and cool and hit him heavy in the belly. He could picture it, filling up his stomach like a reservoir tank--could almost hear the sound of rushing water changing pitch as the level rose. He stopped with a soft gasp, the bottle almost empty, and let himself breathe as he watched Bruce. Bruce watched back, leaning casually against the shelf behind the bar, sipping his soda with small, measured sips.

All at once feeling very guilty, and not quite sure why, Tony dropped his eyes. He placed the bottle back on the bar, holding it there with his hand as he sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said, and then, after a moment. “And I’m not saying it again, so you better have been paying attention.”

“Yes, you will,” Bruce said, and Tony blinked. That...didn’t follow what he had said.

“What? What do you mean by--”

“You’ll apologize again, the next time.”

Tony flashed cold, pulling up sharply. “There will be no next time. No more AI for me, I have no desire to build more ‘Ultrons,’ thank you.”

Bruce waved his hand. “I don’t mean--” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “I mean, the next time you try to do something so...so asinine, that you feel the need to drown your liver, you’ll apologize.” He set the now-empty bottle of soda down on the counter behind him. “And, because I’m in no position to judge anyone on problematic life choices, I’ll accept.”

Tony swallowed swallowed at that, unsure hot to respond. He said the only thing that came to his mind. “You left,” he said.

Bruce pulled his lower lip into his mouth, running his tongue over it, and nodded. “Yeah. I did.”

Tony pointed at him with the bottle. “I’m actually pissed about that, about you leaving me--the team. Us.”

“I had to,” Bruce said, and Tony drank the rest of the water because he had to, and threw the empty bottle over his shoulder.

“No, you didn’t,” Tony said. “You only thought you needed to leave--”

“I had to go, Tony,”

“--because even after all that, you were still running scared from yourself!”

Silence echoed between them, and Tony grabbed the second bottle of water. Fuck, he was going up all night, literally pissing the night away.

Bruce sucked on his teeth. “Yeah. That’s what it was. It had nothing to do with not wanting to hurt the people I care about. It had nothing to do with not wanting to get back on Ross’s fucking radar.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what you think goes on in my head, Tony, but I know myself, and I’m not running from that.”

Tony looked away, picking at the label on the bottle. “I told you. I gave you my sob story. You fell asleep.”

“Still not a therapist, Tony.”

Tony snorted, “Yeah, well.” He drank, letting his words hang.

Bruce watched him drink, and then ran his hand under the bar in front of him until he found what he was looking for, and came back up with a small can of peanuts. An apology of his own. An offering.

“Oh! Bar snacks!” Tony said, reaching out eagerly. Bruce held the can out of the way, peeling back the foil to open the can and shaking a few into his palm before he handed the can back to Tony.

Tony ate some peanuts, feeling the way they crunched and softened, turning to paste before he would swallow, drinking his water when it became too much, too dry, too thick. He was still drunk, very drunk, but his mind was settling, his heart easing in a way it hadn’t--possibly ever-- and it was easier to be honest, to shift from one truth to the next.

“I missed you,” Tony said, between shallow handfuls of peanuts. Bruce, smiled back at him. “Just...wasn’t the same, without you.”

Bruce smiled, that same soft smile from earlier. “I missed you, too.”

Tony smiled, ducking his head, and drank his water.