The moment he started work on Zodiac, Robert developed a bit of a problem. A Mark Ruffalo problem.
Susan would point out that this particular problem of his was more than “bit” sized, but Robert was very adamant that the problem definitely started out that small.
At any rate, they would both agree that by the time The Avengers began filming, it was way more than a “bit” sized problem.
Robert has had the burden and the privilege of being the anchor of the Avengers cast. Their gravitational center, if you will. (It’s about this point in the speech when Susan usually rolls her eyes, just as Robert starts waxing poetic about his role as the glue to this merry band of misfits.) Without Robert’s influence, Gwyneth would have left the project, Evans would never have signed up as Steve Rogers, and Mark would have definitely passed on playing Bruce Banner.
Yeah, it might seem arrogant for Robert to take the credit for the casting of half this franchise, but his boasting is not unfounded. Despite what movie titles might say, Iron Man was the actual first Avenger, making Robert The First Avenger. And as The First Avenger (yes, those capital letters are necessary), he felt he had a duty to form around him the best team that he could find.
He pulled everyone into this project, very proudly (though he’s tried to play down that pride), because he knew they were the people for the roles. More importantly, they were the people he wanted to work with on this massive endeavor and he was nothing if not successful as hell at getting the things he wanted.
Evans had a lot of things to overcome when he accepted his role as Captain America, not least of which being his crippling anxiety, but Robert provided assurance and mentorship that Chris not only needed, but that he secretly craved. Gwyneth was tired of the role of Pepper Potts, or she just wanted a break from the franchise, Robert wasn’t entirely sure, but he somehow convinced her to stay on for the movie (he honestly had no idea how, though he still was more than willing to claim that victory, no matter how accidental). But those two felt easy to convince in comparison to Mark.
Robert knew that Mark knew he was the first name on Joss’ short list of preferred actors to play Banner. However, Robert also knew that Mark had seen people take on Bruce Banner before him, he had seen those portrayals fail to create the kind of payoff Marvel was looking for, and there was immense pressure on whoever agreed to play Hulk for this new blockbuster because of those past failures. Robert and Mark had both been in their fair share of failed films and Robert was sure Mark didn’t want to add an attempt at Bruce Banner to his list of flops.
Joss did everything he could to convince Mark to sign on, but in the end it was Robert’s influence that sealed the deal.
“Robert,” Mark said in greeting when he answered the phone.
“Marcus,” Robert replied.
“Not my name,” Mark said, like he always said when Robert called him that.
Robert just continued to talk over him, “So, you’re playing Bruce to my Tony, I hear.”
“I have been approached to play the part,” Mark said carefully. “Though, it’s not likely I’ll take it.”
“I think it’s very likely you’ll take it, actually,” Robert replied. He could practically hear Mark’s eye roll. Mark’s eye roll was almost as familiar to Robert as Susan’s eye roll was. Zodiac had been a trying project.
“I’m really not sure I want to get involved in this franchise,” Mark said, “I’ve seen the Iron Man movies, Bob. You’ve embodied Tony Stark completely, brought him to life in a way no one could ever have done, a way that no one else could repeat, which should come as a shock to no one, but Bruce Banner has a lot of baggage as a role…”
“He does,” Robert agreed, “but this time he’s in Joss’ hands and he’s in your hands. I can’t imagine a greater equation for success.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Mark sighed.
“I find that flattery gets me a lot of places,” Robert said. “Really enjoyable places, actually.”
“I can hear you leering,” Mark said, “How is it possible for you to vocally convey a leer?”
“I am an incredibly talented man,” Robert answered before redirecting the conversation. It was time to pull out all the stops.
“Let’s cut to the chase here,” Robert said, “there’s no one else in the world who could bring Bruce Banner to life in a way that does the character justice. That burden falls on your shoulders.”
“You could do it,” Mark rebutted.
“I’m kind of Tony Stark, in case you forgot,” Robert replied, “Plus, and you’ll only hear me say this in private, among the two of us, and maybe during the press tour to any nearby journalists who will listen to me: not even I could pull this character off. He’s literally been written for you, Mark. The Avengers won’t work without you as Bruce Banner. I, in good conscience, cannot move forward with this project if you aren’t in that role.”
Mark was silent a long moment before saying, “I’ll give Joss a call in the morning.”
“Good, do that,” Robert said.
When the call ended, Robert definitely did not fist pump, no matter how badly he may have wanted to.
He shot off a text quickly: Your kids are going to be so thrilled that their dad’s an Avenger, they won’t know what to do with themselves.
Mark didn’t reply, but it didn’t matter: he was as good as signed on.
Robert had a hard on for Mark Ruffalo’s acting. Figuratively and literally speaking. That’s the real reason he wanted Mark to play Bruce Banner. That’s the reason it felt like a much bigger deal to convince Mark to take the role than it had to convince any of the others. He was kind of desperate to work with the guy again.
Filming with Mark was… invigorating. It was an experience Robert needed to repeat. Zodiac had been this grueling experience because of Fincher’s driving direction, but the way Robert had been able to play off Mark, and the way Mark had went with Robert’s flow created a kind of effortlessness in their scenes together that made dealing with Fincher worth it.
When Robert met Susan it was like something in his life clicked into place. Meeting Mark, working with Mark, was like that, too. Mark was his acting soul mate.
(And thoughts like that were why Susan was entirely correct when she insisted Robert’s Mark problem was way bigger than “bit” sized.)
It took seconds for Robert and Mark to fall back in sync with one another when The Avengers began filming. It felt like a huge sigh of relief somewhere deep inside Robert when they worked on their first scene. That contentedness spread more and more every day on the job.
They filmed the Blu-ray extras while working on the movie and Robert was so completely enamored with Mark by the time he had his behind the scenes interview that, when asked what it was like to work with Mark again, he couldn’t help blurting out, “With Mark Ruffalo, I have someone who I would be happy to do every scene with for the rest of my life.”
When they finished his interview segment, Mark fell in step beside him as Robert headed for his trailer.
“Jude’s gonna be pretty jealous when he hears you love me more than him,” Mark said.
“Probably,” Robert said.
Mark’s voice dropped in volume, “Thanks, by the way. I enjoy working with you, too.”
Robert tried vainly to fight back the heat he could feel creeping into his face.
“I just told the truth,” he shrugged, going for nonchalance but falling short.
He saw Mark nod out of the corner of his eye before he veered off to leave Robert alone.
“And he should be,” Robert called after Mark, unwilling to just let the conversation go.
Mark turned to give him a questioning look.
“Jude,” Robert clarified, “He should be jealous.”
He watched as Mark blinked, surprised, then ducked his head, but Robert continued on walking before Mark could say anything in return.
“So,” Jeremy asked on set the next day, “What’s the deal with you and Ruffalo?”
Robert looked up from his plate of craft service pastries at the guy and stared.
Jeremy took that as his cue to take a seat beside Robert and make himself comfortable.
Robert turned his attention back to his food.
“Are you sleeping with him or something?” Jeremy asked.
“Excuse me?” Robert almost sputtered. “We’re both married.”
Jeremy raised his hands in a defensive gesture.
“No judgments,” he said. “I’ve heard stories about your arrangement with your wife…”
Robert shook his head. It was true. He and Susan did have an arrangement. The guy wasn’t wrong about that. There was a casual arrogance, though, about the way Jeremy seemed to feel he had the right to pry that made Robert want to hit him. It was an arrogance not unlike the kind that Robert often hid behind though, and that’s the only thing that stopped him from popping the guy in the nose.
“No,” Robert said, taking a deep breath, “We’re not sleeping together.”
“That’s a shame,” Jeremy said, stretching his legs and getting comfortable in the chair.
“Your coworkers are starting to notice, huh?” Susan said, her voice smug as it lilted through the phone.
“Apparently,” Robert just barely resisted the urge to groan.
“So, what are you going to do about it?” She asked.
“Do? There’s nothing to do,” he replied.
“You and I both know that’s not true,” She told him.
“Sweetheart,” he sighed, “you and I have a very unique relationship –”
“Not that unique,” she interrupted, “this kind of negotiated open marriage isn’t so uncommon.”
“Yeah, it mostly is,” he said, “And, at any rate, I doubt Mark has a similar situation going on at home.”
“You’ll never know until you ask,” she told him.
Robert fell silent.
“Well,” she said, “you have my blessing. It’s up to you whether you go for it or not.”
The not-so-“bit”-sized Mark problem became a holy-fuck-enormous-sized Mark problem as soon as Susan gave Robert the green light.
There was no denying Robert’s feelings. They were apparently fairly obvious. Jeremy was becoming insufferable, with his waggling eyebrows across the studio and his stupid little smirks.
“I just have been there, man,” Jeremy had explained in the follow up to their first awkward conversation, “It’s terrifying, but it could work out in your favor. It did for me.”
Robert had heard the rumors about Jeremy and his S.W.A.T. costar. Everyone had heard the rumors about those two. It was more comforting than it should have been to hear them confirmed though. No matter how roundabout that confirmation was.
Maybe Robert should take a chance after all.
Filming ended, the movie was complete, the press tour was in full swing, they were heading back to the studio to film a bonus scene for the movie’s end, and Robert still hadn’t said anything to Mark.
In an effort to save her own sanity, Susan invited Mark over for a late dinner. Robert was hopeless and she was getting real tired of his bullshit now that their baby was running her ragged. She couldn’t deal with Robert’s mooning on top of new parenthood and she was pretty disappointed he’d let things progress this far without taking initiative himself.
Their chef had gone home for the night, so she ordered Robert to make the two of them omelets, and then she left them to eat alone so she could get some much-needed sleep. If they didn’t figure things out once and for all, she was going to have to divorce Robert. That was not something either of them wanted.
Still, Robert tried to protest. He tried to get her to stay and eat with them, but she was a successful businesswoman, tired mother, and skilled in the ways of handling Robert: he didn’t stand a chance against her and in the end he was left glaring after her retreating form.
Mark turned the topic to work as soon as she was gone, clueless as to the gigantic pink elephant in the room with them.
“How do you want to play off that scene tomorrow?” Mark asked.
“I don’t know,” Robert shrugged, pushing the eggs around his plate and trying to keep his nerves at bay, “It’ll probably be like a big awkward pause.”
“Like Craig Ferguson does on his show,” Mark grinned.
Robert nodded. He’d heard about that bit in Ferguson’s act.
“That’s right up Joss’ alley,” Mark said, nodding.
They fell into a genuinely tense silence after that as they sat eating their food. Robert’s brain screamed at him to say something, but Mark beat him to it.
“It’s good we’re practicing the awkward now,” Mark said.
And there it was. The blinders were pulled down and the elephant was exposed. It was time to talk about it or never talk again. With choices like that, Robert could only do one thing.
“Susan gave me permission to sleep with you.”
Blurting that out was not exactly what he’d intended to do.
“I… okay… what now?” Mark sputtered.
“Jeremy thought we were having sex and when I said we weren’t he said we should,” Robert said, and suddenly, after months of avoiding the topic, it was like he couldn’t stop talking. “I’ve been into you since Zodiac but I always tried to downplay it because it seemed crazy even though Susan and I have an arrangement that you’ve probably heard rumors about since everyone says they’ve heard rumors about it, like Jeremy, who is absolutely sleeping with Colin Farrell by the way, that’s another rumor circulating the gossip mill that happens to be true.”
Mark stared, mouth agape.
Robert took a deep breath and tried to slow down.
“I’m bisexual and sometimes I sleep with men outside my marriage, but only if Susan okays it first, because we’re hip and new wave like that. Plus she likes to watch, sometimes. And join in, other times. And she, occasionally, brings home another man. It works for us.”
“Okay,” Mark said, dragging out the last syllable of the word as his brain began working again. “And you want to have sex with me?”
Robert nodded once.
“I’m married,” Mark said.
Robert fought back a sigh. “I know.”
“And you still want to have sex with me,” Mark said.
“Pretty badly,” Robert replied.
“I don’t…” Mark paused. “I’ve only been with my wife since we got married.”
Robert nodded, resigned, “Okay.”
So that was the end of that.
“I’ll need to talk to her,” Mark said.
Or maybe not. Robert looked back up at Mark.
“What?” he asked.
Mark’s gaze was calculating.
“Sunrise and I had a discussion back before I got the part in We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” he explained, “A bunch of our friends were splitting up and divorcing, there were accusations of adultery and abandonment thrown around. It was a mess and we didn’t ever want to end up like that.”
He paused to gather his thoughts and Robert didn’t dare break the silence.
“We had a really frank discussion then,” Mark continued, “about sex and infidelity and what we’d be willing to do to keep our marriage whole. We decided that an open arrangement would be a good idea. We could sleep with other people as long as we remained honest with each other and put our family first.”
Robert said, “But in all the time since you’ve never slept with anyone other than Sunrise.”
“I haven’t,” Mark said, “but she has. It’s worked out surprisingly well for us.”
Robert felt a small sense of relief wash over him.
“Why haven’t you?” He asked.
Mark shook his head, “I’d never had anyone I wanted to sleep with before. Not anyone I thought would want to sleep with me, anyway.”
“And now,” Mark said, “I apparently do.”
Mark left soon after they finished talking. He had to go home and talk to Sunrise before anything could possibly happen between the two of them.
Once he was gone, Robert had to resist the urge to wake Susan. He was restless and spent most of the night in front of the television watching the Food Network.
Susan found him there, Exton asleep on his chest, the next morning.
“I fed him a bottle,” he whispered, “I didn’t want to wake you.”
She sat beside them and kissed him chastely.
“Thank you. Did you talk to Mark?”
“Turns out, he and his wife have a unique arrangement themselves.”
Susan nodded in turn.
“See,” she said, “I told you it was more common than you thought.”
Robert hummed in acquiescence.
“Does he want to sleep with you as badly as you want to sleep with him?” Susan asked, snuggling close to him.
“He definitely wants to have sex with me, yes,” Robert told her.
He couldn’t see her face, but he could tell she was smiling smugly.
“He’s gonna talk to Sunrise and let me know what’s up.”
“Good,” Susan said. Exton stirred a little and she reached out to take him from Robert. Once he was cradled in her arms, he settled. “Now go make me breakfast.”
Robert laughed, “Yes, dear.”
Robert got to the lot and was ushered straight to make up. He found himself on the set right before shooting began and he had absolutely no time to talk to Mark before Joss called action.
Luckily, the extra scene was relatively painless to film. Well, not exactly painless. Robert was in a lot of pain, waiting and wondering what Mark would have to say. He tried to catch Mark’s eye between takes, to capture Mark’s attention in any way, in order to get some kind of sign that things were going in his favor, but he was unable to do so. Mark was very clearly avoiding paying Robert any attention outside of the scene. The only small favor Robert was able to catch that morning was the scene was finished quickly and the cast and crew were soon breaking for the day.
Robert wasn’t even able to fake subtlety as he followed Mark off set, to his trailer.
The door was barely shut behind them before Robert asked, “Well?”
Mark just gave him a questioning look.
“Mark!” Robert exclaimed, “I’m dying here! What did she say?”
Mark’s lips curled into a small grin and he took a step toward Robert, crowding him in the small space, backing him up against the trailer door.
“She said,” Mark began, voice soft, “she is completely okay with us fucking.”
Robert’s mouth went dry.
“Really?” He asked, voice strained.
“Really,” Mark said.
“Thank fucking God,” Robert sighed.
He stepped forward at the same time Mark did. They reached for one another, pressing close together, and kissed for the first time. It was hot and messy and their teeth clicked, but it felt fantastic. Robert had wanted for so long, he couldn’t wait any longer. He wanted more now. He wanted everything.
He slid his hands to Mark’s hips and tugged at the waist of his pants. Bruce Banner’s pants, to be accurate.
“Costume department will have a fit if we ruin these clothes,” Mark said against Robert’s jaw.
“We better take them off then,” Robert replied.
They made quick work of shedding their clothing and draped them over the nearest clean surface they could find. Mark finished first and crowded Robert back against the trailer door again, pressing Robert’s bare ass to the cool metal. Robert hissed, but the sound was swallowed by Mark he kissed him again.
Robert let Mark take the lead and took the opportunity to run his hands across Mark’s skin. He scratched his nails through Mark’s chest hair and it was Mark’s turn to hiss.
Without a word, Mark reached down and wrapped his hand around Robert’s cock.
“Fuck, yes,” Robert groaned.
He ran his hands down Mark’s chest, gripped Mark’s hip with one and his cock with the other. Robert didn’t think he’d be able to last very long. From the looks and sounds of it, neither would Mark.
“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Robert panted against Mark’s lips.
“We should’ve done this years ago,” Mark replied.
Robert whined, “Thank God we’re doing it now.”
Mark agreed and kissed Robert roughly. Robert’s head was swimming, he was so overwhelmed, he almost didn’t notice Mark swatting his hand away.
“Shh,” Mark cut off his question as he pulled Robert closer so he could press their cocks together and jerk them off at once.
The feeling of Mark’s cock pressed against Robert’s, of Mark’s rough hand jerking them both off, was too much for Robert to handle. He arched his back and shouted as he came hard into Mark’s hand. Mark followed close behind, dropping his head to Robert’s shoulder and grunting, cock pulsing against Robert’s own sensitive, softening cock as he came.
“Fuck everything,” Robert gasped, trying to catch his breath. “I’m really fucking sorry I didn’t say anything sooner, even if that was well worth the wait.”
Mark laughed, a hot puff of air against Robert’s hot skin. He kissed Robert’s shoulder.
“Wait until we’re someplace more comfortable,” Mark promised, “I’ll show you some things more worth the wait then.”
It was Robert’s turn to laugh.
“Alright, old man,” he said, “Just give me a few hours and maybe we can have a round two.”
Mark gently bumped his forehead against Robert’s temple as he replied, “Sounds good.”
They stayed that way, standing close, as they caught their breath and regained their balance. Robert made a mental note to buy both of their wives presents. They owed them big time for this. Maybe, during round two, they’d want to watch. Robert would make sure they were invited.