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Silence is Not Golden

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Tony Stark thought he would implode.

He thought he'd burst into a million tiny atoms and waste away into the air like dust. He thought he'd burst into flames and burn slowly to the ground. He thought he'd die of a heart attack at age seventeen.

Any one of those were better than this. Tony still couldn't believe how he got stuck with probably the worst partner in the whole world, for a school project worth half their grade. It was inevitable. He'd fail English and have to explain to his family how the most genius kid in America couldn't pass a simply Language Arts class all because he got stuck with Bruce Banner as his partner.

He rather have someone like Phil Coulson, and Tony couldn't even bare to look at Phil without gagging. Damn, he hated that guy, and there wasn't even a reason behind it. But, it was just his luck to be stuck with the most socially awkward, nerdiest, shyest and dumbest kid in school. Bruce was basically the opposite of Stark, and he was pretty sure the saying, 'Opposites Attract', didn't mean anything in this situation. He wouldn't get along with a guy like Banner; short, skinny, nerdy, antisocial, awkward, weird, you name it! Tony was totally not working with this kid.

Of course, Stark knew that he was only aware of some things. He knew the kid was half Mexican, or at least knew Spanish (he'd seen the kid in action during Spanish class). Tony knew that he was either always cold, or just not comfortable with showing his skin to often, hence the reason he was constantly wearing sweatshirts and jeans in the middle of spring and late summer. What he didn't know, was where Bruce lived, and why exactly did the teen wore such conservative clothing items.

Strict parents, he used to think, before hearing through the grape vine, that the kid's mom was dead, and had been since he was around eleven years old. Strict parents, he thought, but he didn't know the half of it.

Tony was slightly older than the boy, taller too, as well as way more popular and good looking... in Tony's opinion. However, many other people in school also thought of the billionaire was quite the handsome man. Pepper Pots, seventeen years old and seemingly in love with Tony since sixth grade. Their relationship had lasted a few years and was still as strong as ever. He loved Pepper more than life itself, and she was a caring, humorous individual. Pepper was beautiful, with long ginger hair and looks that could kill.

He had been hoping to get her as his partner for this very important and crucial to your grade assignment. But, no! He had to get stuck with some stupid, ignorant, weird, emo freak!

"Hello." A small voice rang out. To small to be a High schooler, but it somehow rang out in the class room. It was a soft word, which held no emotion except for anxiety and hesitation. A voice void of any coherency, but Tony somehow understood the muffled word.

The older teen turned swiftly around in his chair, only to frighten the person behind him with the quick movement, in which he flinched and backed away from the chair. It was Bruce, wrapped snuggly in a sweatshirt that had seen better days, worn jeans that bunched up at his ankles and mostly likely, thrifted shoes that had an odd red stain on the white exterior. A vibrant red, hard to miss. His hair was a mess of voluminous, black curls on his head, swaying in all different directions. Tony thought it was cute, like, little brother cute.

"Uh, yes?" Stark questioned, his face contorting into a confused expression as he glared at Bruce, noticing how the boy crippled underneath the older boy's harsh stare. He shrunk back, if only a little, curling his arms around his torso and squeezing, as if he was about to be sick. His eyes flashed with something close to fear or anxiety, and Tony was wondering if he had struck a nerve in the boy.

"Y-you're, Tony Stark, right? You're my, uhm, 
p-partner... f-for the assignment," Bruce had a slight stutter, but Tony guessed it was because he was only shy and got anxious around people. But more importantly, did Bruce just ask if he was Tony Stark? Of course it was Tony Stark! He wasn't very hard to miss. Stark had to refrain from asking whether it was the overly priced sunglasses, or the smug grin that had him guessing. The younger teen look sheepishly at the other male, noticeably relaxing as Tony released his glare and smiled. He'd at least try to be nice. For Bruce's sake, of course.

"Yeah, I'm Tony. You're Bruce, right? Bruce Banner?" The teen was now relaxed fully and even offered a small, shy smile of his own. His arms fell back down to his sides. Finally, Banner wasn't being the closed off teen he usually was. Well, that's a first, Tony thought, taking his time in examining Bruce's body movements. Slow and careful, his arms resting in front of his body at all times, his back curved slightly, as if ready to sprint off at any sudden danger. A weird kid, but at least he was talking.

"Uh, yes?" Stark questioned, his face contorting into a confused expression as he glared at Bruce, noticing how the boy crippled underneath the older boy's harsh stare. He shrunk back, if only a little, curling his arms around his torso and squeezing, as if he was about to be sick. His eyes flashed with something close to fear or anxiety, and Tony was wondering if he had struck a nerve in the boy.

"Y-you're, Tony Stark, right? You're my, uhm, p-partner... f-for the assignment," Bruce had a slight stutter, but Tony guessed it was because he was only shy and got anxious around people. But more importantly, did Bruce just ask if he was Tony Stark? Of course it was Tony Stark! He wasn't very hard to miss. Stark had to refrain from asking whether it was the overly priced sunglasses, or the smug grin that had him guessing. The younger teen look sheepishly at the other male, noticeably relaxing as Tony released his glare and smiled. He'd at least try to be nice. For Bruce's sake, of course.

"Yeah, I'm Tony. You're Bruce, right? Bruce Banner?" The teen was now relaxed fully and even offered a small, shy smile of his own. His arms fell back down to his sides. Finally, Banner wasn't being the closed off teen he usually was. Well, that's a first, Tony thought, taking his time in examining Bruce's body movements. Slow and careful, his arms resting in front of his body at all times, his back curved slightly, as if ready to sprint off at any sudden danger. A weird kid, but at least he was talking.

That seemed to spark something in the other teen. All of the sudden he became his normal, anxious, self-conscious self and his arms wrapped around his torso once again. He slouched even more and Tony thought about getting him a chiropractor to get rid of the kinks it would cause later in life.

"U-uhm... my dad may not want me to go. He's really strict when it comes to friends," And just about everything else, Bruce forgot to add. He uses the term "forgot", lightly. In a sense, his father wouldn't let him do anything outside of the house, and even activities indoors had three rules that applied to them. They had to be completely silent. They couldn't involve anyone else except himself. And they couldn't be school or educational oriented. The last one had an exception for homework, which Bruce always did to maintain a somewhat normal life.

"Oh please, Brucie," Bruce blushed at the nickname, but Tony didn't mind. He had nicknames for virtually everyone in school, so the younger teen wasn't special in that sense. Bruce thought it was a bit early in their friendship for nicknames. Tony didn't want this to be a friendship. "You're a big boy, you can take care of yourself. C'mon, after school, I'll drive you to my house and then I'll drive you home. Piece of cake!"

Bruce wanted to say no bad. He wanted to decline the offer and save himself from getting in trouble by his father later. But, who was he to decline an offer to go to Tony-freaking-Stark's house!? This was a once in a lifetime opportunity! Maybe he'd gain some friends out of this, maybe even Tony himself will become his friend! This was the greatest thing that's ever happened to him.

"If you insist. But, I have to be home by five, or my dad will kill me." Bruce wasn't kidding when he said that.

The minute the last bell rang, Bruce and Tony were out of school faster than you can say the word hurry. Faster than lightning.

The car ride was awkward to say the least. Tony insisted on playing the loudest rock songs on high volume, and putting the cover down on his bright red convertible, which surprised Bruce. Why would Tony want to show off that he was friends with Bruce, it was just embarrassing? The younger teen sat quietly, his hands fiddling in his lap, as if wishing to grab onto something. Something to ground him.

Tony was bopping his head along with the music, as well as tapping his finger against the steering wheel. He was was going five miles over the speed limit, but didn't seem to care, even though he was going quite fast. Stark didn't slow down at speed bumps, in fact, he sped it, grinning as his tires popped up slightly and Bruce's back slammed against the seat.

Bruce couldn't breathe, and every time a speed bump came along, he'd hold his breath and allow his body to jerk backwards. It was the same feeling of being thrown against a wall. Bruce found it odd how he compared the two sensations. He found it a bit odd how close the feelings were to each other. He wished he didn't know what being thrown against a wall felt like. He wish he could tell Tony to stop.

Many speed bumps and ran stop signs later, they arrived at Tony's mansion. Well, his father's mansion. It was huge- bigger than huge- and Bruce knew at that moment that he shouldn't be here. It was far to fancy, to big and rich for the likes of him.

"Welcome to my humble abode!" Stark grinned, going through the gate and parking his car next to the many others in the garage. Bruce felt like he was going to be sick. The billionaire teen grabbed both boy's backpacks and hauled them to the door, where he promptly dropped them into a servants awaiting arms. "Bring these to my room, will you J? Brucie here is coming with me, what's for dinner?"

"There is no set plan for dinner, sir. However, I'd be glad to tell the chefs if you have anything in mind."

"Thanks Jarvis! Hey, Brucie, what'd you want for dinner?" That comment caught Bruce by surprise. His eyes went wide and for a moment, he struggled to breath. He felt the world close in on him, the walls getting tighter and the ceiling getting lower. Tony and Jarvis disappeared and there was nothing but constricting space and a ringing in his ears. He felt sick again. "Bruce? Hey, snap out of it, I asked you a question."

"I asked you a question, idiot! Where the hell were you?! Running off like a bastard, I outa knock some sense into you!"

Coming wasn't a good idea. He need to go home straight away, before his father had time to get there first. There was no way he could stay for dinner, no way he could stay any longer. Bruce wanted to go home- he needed to go before dad got home.

Dad would get home before him and he'd be in trouble.

Dad would see he's not there and get angry.

Dad would be waiting for him to open the door before he jumped on him.

"I-I want to go home. I need to get home before my dad gets off of work which is in an hour, so I'm sorry I made you drive me here, but I'll walk home," Bruce didn't catch the look Jarvis sent his way, but it was a fierce one, mixed with confusion and suspicion. Tony didn't seem at all fazed by Bruce's antics and clapped a hand around the boy's shoulders.

"Venga, Bruce! Mi casa es tu casa!" The older teen grinned, leading Bruce into the home and straight towards the grand staircase. God... his house was huge, with three grand staircases, at least a dozen chandeliers covered in diamonds, hardwood floors polished to a shine and hand woven carpets made from the finest materials. This place wasn't a house, it was a palace! Bruce was sure he had to take notes on Howard Stark's enterprise because he'd to anything live in a place like this. Actually, any place was better than where he lives now.

His neighborhood was small, but filled to the brim with tiny, run down houses five feet apart from each other. His house in particular was one of the worst. It was a dark grey with chipping pain, and the driveway was overrun by leaves (which he was supposed to blow out of the drive way but never got the chance, he'd get in trouble for that). The front porch had a hole in the corner, allowing critters like snakes and rats to crawl and make homes inside, but they never bothered Bruce or his father. And when his mother was alive, they avoided her too. The front door was a dull brown, the knob a rusted gold. The inside wasn't much better. It was dirty, although Bruce tried his best to keep it as clean as it could in fear of getting yelled at (or worse) by his father. There were many bookshelves, a worn couch and a few coffee tables. It wasn't much, and only had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a single bathroom.

If Tony wanted to be his friend, at least he'd have company and get to stay in a place like this.

By the time they made it up to Tony's room, Bruce had been totally mesmerized by the sheer size and elegance that the home held. Then they got into Tony's room. It was loud. Apparently, the young billionaire had no qualms about leaving on the radio on for copious hours at a time. The same music that he was playing in the car was blasting here, before Tony hurried to the radio to turn it down, grumbling on about how no one turns it off when he leaves. There were multiple posters on the wall of 80's rock bands and he had a whole stack of records ranging from Def Leppard to Guns & Roses.

The older teen eventually settled at his desk, pulling an extra chair from in front of the television and bringing over so Bruce could sit. The silence was awkward between the two, and Bruce decided to speak up before he ruined his chances of gaining a new friend. He was desperate.

"You speak Spanish?" The smaller boy asked, and Tony whipped around in his chair, thinking for a moment. He hummed a bit, mumbling something that was actually in Spanish, though Bruce couldn't exactly hear it clearly. Then, in a split second, the older boy grinned and nodded his head followed be a 'Sí Señor!' as his eyes lit up. Bruce had initiated the conversation, that was a step in the right direction. Bruce also smiled a shy grin, unusual for him to do.

"¿Es por eso que no prestas atención en la clase de español? Eres demasiado bueno en eso?"

The confused expression on Tony's face answered that question.

"I know a little, okay? I'm not a fucking expert like you Señor Banner!" Bruce couldn't help but allow a small smile at that comment, allowing the bright atmosphere to embrace him in a hug. For once in a long time, Banner could feel a warmth like no other, the same warmth his mother showed him, and he wanted to bask in it for as long as he could. But it wouldn't last. It never did.

"You may not be an expert, but your still part of the scale," Bruce laughed and Tony smirked, eyeing the boy before grinning and chuckling with amusement.

"And where would I be on this 'Ranking Scale'?" The older boy made sure to include air quotes in his sentence as he settled back in his chair, that backrest resisting his weight, but ultimately leaning back anyways. Gotta love rolling chairs.

"You'd be an amateur-"

"Tony Stark is no amateur!" Tony defended, interrupting the smaller teen as he abruptly stood to his feet. Determination in his eyes he set out on making sure Bruce knew that he was not intermediate. He was a master at everything, not matter what!

"Tony Stark must be an amateur at grammar, because he just spoke about himself in the third person," Bruce grinned and Tony couldn't help but look mock offended, about to resent to his... friend's claim before the door to his bedroom was abruptly opened, and Jarvis poked his head through.

"What is it, Jarvis? We're studying," If 'studying' meant fooling around when they haven't done any work yet, then yes, they were doing just that. Jarvis didn't seem to mind the irritated tone in Tony's voice, and if he did, he chose to simply ignore it. From what Bruce had seen so far, Tony wasn't rude to his butler, only a bit stern, but definitely not mean. Not Bruce's father mean, it was far from that.

"I'm sorry to disturb you sir," His thick British accent rolled off his tongue, holding his head high with his nose pointed to the ceiling as he spoke with confidence. Though he knew he was only a butler, he had created quite a strong connection with the young billionaire, and had no need to fear him. "I just wanted to inform you that you are in tremendous trouble with your father. In fact, it's bigger than tremendous. It's humongous-"

Tony's face scrunched in confusion, not remembering what he had done wrong to make his father so angry.

"Okay, okay, I get it. What did I do?"

"You forgot to put the letter- the very important one your father specifically asked you to put in the mail- into the slot last week. So, unfortunately, a business deal worth a large amount of money between your father and another company has been called off," Jarvis explained, an ounce or two of disappointment dripping off of his tongue. Now, usually the servants or Howard himself would do such an important task (money was everything), however in his hast, he had asked his son to put it in the mail box himself. A week later, Mr. Stark received word that the letter he meant to send hadn't been received yet, and the deal had been a huge waste of time and effort.

"Uh oh..." Tony's face crumbled as he realized that he'd get a huge talking to when his father got home in a week. This hadn't been the first time he'd done something like this. One week, Howard asked Tony to finish off the tax papers by the end of the day. Long story short, the boy forgot to do them all together and a letter from the government came a day later. Not good. Tony groaned as he slumped back in his seat, his eyes gazing  at he floor in dejection. His dad was soooo annoying when it came to talking to. All he'd do was yell and then storm off into his bedroom after teaching his son a lesson about responsibility through words (because no matter how neglectful Howard was, he'd never lay a hand on his kid).

"Mr. Stark will deal with you later, I just thought that you'd like to prepare yourself for the heated argument later tonight," Jarvis smiled as he exited the room, chuckling slightly at his young master's antics. at least he wasn't in trouble for sneaking into his father's alcohol or something illegal. He shut the door behind him.

"Well, guess you're in for it now, huh?" Bruce questioned, adjusting the pen in his hand as he looked down at the blank sheet of paper. He was supposed to be writing notes, but all this conversation was making it hard to concentrate. The younger boy cleared his throat and gazed at the page, waiting for Tony to answer.

"Yeah, that's the second time! My dad's gonna flip out on me!" Tony groaned, flipping lazily through a binder, stock full of doodles and sketches for machines and computer parts. A few engine motels as well, one for an old style car compared to a newer one, the changes were drastic. He didn't noticed the way Bruce smiled slightly, if it was only a small, hopeful smile.

"Well, you know what helps?" Bruce questioned, and Tony face him a confused stare, so he chose to continue. "Try to think of a funny movie, like Home Alone or Rodger Rabbit, that's what I always do when I'm getting it." Bruce smiled again, looking Tony dead in the eyes, as if the older boy would empathize and relate to what he was saying. Tony was just confused.

"Getting what, Brucie?" Bruce blushed again at the nickname but cleared his throat again. He didn't know why Tony was questioning what he had said. It was obvious what would happen when Howard got home. He might as well share some advice on how to cope with it. They were friends, Bruce supposed, and friends did that for each other, right?

Tony laid back in his chair, crossing his legs and staring at Bruce with a soft, doe-eyed stare. He was interested, but definitely not prepared for what his new friend said next. He never would be.

"Well... y'know, when your dad is pounding you," Bruce sounded hopeful, like he had finally gotten Tony to understand. Except, Tony already knew what he was talking about. He had just said that when his dad got home he'd be in trouble. Bruce knew exactly what being in trouble meant, and he wasn't glad that it was going to happen to Tony. Only, the older boy's face was still confused, and he was trying all his might to understand what Bruce was referring too. And he called himself a genius!

"You mean hitting? My dad never hits me... does yours hit you?" There was no answer, but Bruce's eyes went so wide, and he choked on air as he struggled to breathe. What had he done?! Of course this had to happen to him! Why can't he just shut his mouth and let others tell him off? Why can't he listen to his father? "Bruce? Does your dad hit you?" Tony already knew the answer, but the smaller boy's silence worried him.

"N-No, f-forget it, let's just do the assignment," Bruce was starting to sweat. He focused back on his blank sheet of paper and pretended to search something up in a text book lying on Tony's desk. He hummed for a moment, criticizing himself in his head before Tony started talking again. Bruce was going to vomit.

"No, no, no, Brucie. You said you always think of a funny movie, do you get hit a lot? Be honest." Tony stood from his seat, movie to lay his back against the wall and cross his arms together. He supposed he looked determined, or maybe a bit intimidating in this stature, but he didn't care to move again. He only stared at Bruce with cold eyes.

"Look, Tony," This time, Tony thought he'd be sick, by the pure desperation in Bruce's soft voice. "I didn't mean anything by it, just forget it, let's do the assignment, okay?" He was definitely going to be sick. The younger male was lying, obviously. He wasn't very good at it. He was sweating, Bruce's hands were shaking as they constantly dropped the pen in his hands, and he looked as if he were about to cry a river of tears to flood Tony's whole house.

"Bruce, you can trust me, I swear," Tony was practically begging now, wishing his new friend would open up. Because this was not okay. Everything made sense now! The way Bruce closed himself off from everyone, the odd way he dresses and even the bruises-

The bruises.

Tony had seen them on so many occasions. Every day at school he had counted how many scrapes and cuts and contusions the boy had on his body and said nothing. Absolutely nothing, and the problem was right underneath his nose the entire time! He'd fix this for sure.

"No, I don't care if you swear on your mothers life."

"I don't swear on my mothers life. I find it rude."

"M-Me too. I don't have a mother to swear her life on."

"I'm sorry."

There was a pause. The tension was high and the room was stuffy, maybe a bit too hot. Bruce bit his lip so hard he thought it would start bleeding, but it never did, it just made his bottom lip a bit swollen. It was just spit. He knew what blood tasted like.

"Look, my dad hits me sometimes, but it's my own fault for ticking him off," Bruce paused for a minute before an awkward chuckle came out of his mouth which made his dry lips crack. Tony would have offered him chap stick if he had any on him. "Boy, did he really clobber me last week." Another chuckle. Tony gagged.

"You mean when you came to school his the bandage on your head, along with the black eye? The same black eye you convinced the teacher was from a clash with a mean old door?" Tony teased, but he was dead serious. This would never be okay. And Bruce couldn't believe that, because he'd been through it his whole life. It was normal.

"Yeah, a door named Brian."

"That your dad's name?"

Bruce hummed and nodded.

"Maybe you should tell somebody, Bruce. I'm serious, this isn't okay."

"No, no," Worry and anxiety. He didn't trust Tony, or anyone else for that matter. "I can't tell anyone and neither can you!" He all but yelled, and Tony stared at him with surprise. Why was Bruce being so difficult? Didn't he want to get away from his father, after all the guy hits him to Pete's sake! Bruce had the opportunity to leave and he want taking it! Fear flashed in Bruce's eyes. "What time is it?"

Tony glanced down at his Rolex, taking a moment to relish in the diamonds. Wow, weren't they beautiful? The way they sparkled in the light and made little disco lights on the walls. He should get Bruce a Rolex for his birthday so he can remain in the beauty as well.

"5:30"

"Already?! It felt likes its been five minutes! Oh, I didn't tell my dad I was going to be late, I gotta go. I gotta go, Tony." No, Tony was not going to allow Bruce to just leave like that! He promised himself to keep Bruce away from that man ever since he learned about Brian. Which was approximately four minutes ago, but it didn't matter! He'd protect Bruce because Bruce couldn't stand up for himself!

"But, Bruce- hold on, wait!"

Bruce was already halfway out the door and down the stairs before Tony got a hold on him. Not a real hold, more like a 'Don't Move Or I'll Restrain You' hold. It didn't set Bruce off, even though Tony was sure it would. Considering what he just learned.

"Tones, you gotta swear to me. You can't tell anyone as long as you live! Ever. You got it, o-okay?"

Tony wanted to say no. He wanted to scream the two letters so loud that New Jersey could hear him. But he didn't because he was already falling into a friendship with Bruce, and he didn't what to ruin the only good thing in the boy's life.

"Okay, Bruce, I swear. Even though I really don't want to. I swear, on my life not to tell a single soul."

Bruce didn't say anything, but thanked him silently as he ran home. It started to rain, but the smaller not denied the offer of Tony driving him home. Tony had hunch as to why.
———————————————————————————

The next day at school, seventh period English, Tony met with Pepper. The couple sat with each other, ogling over themselves with chaste kisses and small 'I love you's. They were adorable together, and the other girls couldn't help but be jealous over the confident young couple.

"Good morning, Tony. Is that a new top?" Pepper grinned, rubbing a delicate hand over the front of it, soaking in the soft material as well as feeling over the muscles under the man's shirt. Her nails dug slightly into his skin as she scratched. The male grinned back at her.

"You'd know, you're the one who bought it for me," Tony chuckled, landing a soft kiss on the girl's cheek resulting in her blushing a fierce pink as she giggled. Pepper returned the kiss right back, not bothering to pay attention to the many envious stares the two were getting.

It want long before the teacher walked in from going to the bathroom and smiled at her class. "Good afternoon class," She instructed the others to begin research in their projects while she walked towards Stark with a frown. He stepped were small, almost pained, but confident nonetheless.

"I'm afraid you'll have to find a new partner to work on your assignment, Tony," She suggested, looking down upon the younger male and linking her hands together in front of her. The comment seemed to spark something in Tony, as he was immediately intrigued and curious (as well as worried) to why he has to search for a new partner. It had only been one day since working with Bruce, and he was growing quite fond of the kid. And he'd be lying if he said that he wasn't worried for Bruce's well-being, especially after last night.

"What? Why, I though I was working with, Bruce?" Tony questioned, raising as eyebrow and looking at the teacher expectingly. He first thought that crossed his mind was that something bad had happened to Bruce. There was no doubt about it.

"Unfortunately, he's going to be out all week. He had an accident," She explained, frowning slightly though trying to keep a strong face in front of her student. The tea he roasted for a moment and looked as if she were thinking hard about something. She was contemplating something. The lady tick a piece of her short brown hair behind her ears and took a breath. "Bruce's father called earlier, he notified the school that his son had... fallen down the stairs, if I remember correctly. The doctor believe he broke his arm."

"Oh no..." That was so unlike Tony it was sick. He was out going, not quiet. But those two words were so small and fragile, that Tony was sure they broke into a million tiny pieces. The class was looking at them now, curious eyes and worried expressions, silently waiting for the popular teen to say something more. But there was nothing but silence that filled the empty space for a minute, it wasn't awkward, it was just quiet. It was like when they took a test, it was silent, or when they were watching a movie, silent. No voices, no speaking and noise. No kids clicking their pens, none of that awful noise of pencil led against paper. No squeaky marker on the chalk board. Silence.

"What is it, Tony?"

"Uhm... nothing, it's nothing."
———————————————————————————

"I'm never talking to my dad again, he's so fucking... mean all the time! Never lets me do anything, he's a huge dickwad," Clint growled, banging his head against the back of his locker, groaning at the pain as a result of his action. He was surrounded by his friends, Steve in the back, one strap of his backpack hanging over his shoulder, a smile on his face. Natasha sent a death glare Clint's way, her ears still ringing from the metal sound of the locker, she was contemplating whether or not to hit him with one of her text books. Thor stood beside Steve laughing boisterously at something on his phone, gaining the attention of students passing by. Tony stood beside Clint, standing frozen after the teen's complaint.

"Don't say that," Tony spat, lowering his gaze on and glaring at the floor with hatred. How could Clint say something like that? How could he say something like that when he wasn't in Bruce's situation? Bruce's dad was mean. He was beyond mean and Clint was being ungrateful that his father didn't hit him, like Brian did to his own son.

Clint flared back, crossing his arms and huffing. "He won't let me go to Nick's party. I swear to god Fury has the best parties," the teen muttered, kicking the ground and growing again, earning a punch in the shoulder form his girlfriend, Natasha, who stood idly by waiting for him to say something stupid. "Ouch, that hurt,"

"Good."

Tony glared at Clint with even more rage and he finally broke. "Big deal, Clint." The kid muttered through a clenched jaw, balling his hands into fists at his side.

"It is to me... I really wanted to go, but now I can't because dad's making me help out at work that night."

"Look, I'm telling you, don't ever call your dad names," Something came over Tony and he finally met Clint's eyes, not knowing how oddly Steve, Thor and Natasha stared at him, curious and worried eyes. Their minds worked a mile a minute. Tony didn't relinquish his cold, hard stare.

"I don't know who put a stick up your-"

"Hey, Itchy, Scratchy, what's going on over here? Shouldn't you guys be heading home?" Phil Coulson came striding over and Tony couldn't help but role his eyes. The kid was always so stuck up, and Steve followed him idly like a puppy dog, Tony never saw what people liked in the guy. Nonetheless the billionaire gave the older teen his attention.

"Clint's making a fuss over stupid things and calling his dad names. Jerk," Tony complained, leaving his stare for Phil as he gave Clint's eyes a break. Clint was one of Tony's good friends, as were Steve, Natasha and Thor, but as of right now, Clint was seriously ticking him off. The genius thought about introducing Bruce to his friends, allowing him to join in and finally not be alone. He made his decision final once he heard about the younger kids father. It wasn't out of pity, merely the thought of what Bruce might be going through right now. Tony was really starting to like the kid, so why not let him stick around?

"Dad's making me work overtime at work and won't let me go to Fury's party," Clint thought he sounded like a baby, but whined anyways, feeling the need to express his annoyed emotions in the most annoying way possible. By sounding like a two year old.

"Hey now, Clint, your dad does what he thinks is best for you. He's a pretty fair man," Phil chuckled, and Steve did the same, though the bigger man didn't exactly know what was so funny. Tony was angry. There was absolutely nothing to laugh about. At all.

"I agree with Phil, he's only helping you." Oh, Steve.

"Coulson is correct. Your father is a very fair man and kind as well." Thor just followed along although he didn't exactly know what was happening either.

"Yeah, but, all I did was forget to take out the trash this week! And last week. And the week before that. And the-"

"Okay! Okay! We get it, birdbrain," Natasha smiled at her boyfriend, nudging him so he got the message to shut up and listen. She loved him but boy, did he need a lesson in manners!

"Big deal, so you have to miss some stupid party. Don't you know how lucky you- we all are? Some kids get punished way worse than that," Tony lowered his gaze again, only to dodge the faces of his confused friends, which each had a bad feeling in their gut about all of this. The billionaire was acting weird, there was no doubt about it. He wasn't being his usual giddy, sarcastic self. He was being cold, indifferent and rude, implying hints that made no sense. It had them all scratching heir heads. Tony look as if he were about to cry, staring down at his shoes and taking big breaths of air to calm himself down. No, Tony was not okay.

"Tony, where's this coming from?" Steve asked, reaching a hand out to lay it on the teen's shoulder, only for it to be shoved off in anger and angst. Rodgers was appalled, as Tony had never shied away from physical touch. Something weird was going on around here. "Something you want to talk about?" He questioned again, furrowing his eyebrows and taking in his friend's facial expression. Anguished.

"Yeah." Tony answered, short and flat, void of any emotion, but full of hesitation and regret after saying that one word. It was too late to turn back time and take it back, as all of his friends were now listening intently on him. Even Phil, which never seemed to give a damn before.

"Can't hear you unless you speak up, Stark," Natasha smiled one of her rare smiles that she only used in dire situations. Tony didn't see it as dire, more of a serious situation in which he needed help to rectify. For Bruce's sake. Because Bruce doesn't fall downstairs by himself, and Bruce doesn't trip, and Bruce isn't clumsy enough to break his arm falling down a small flight of stairs without a little push. And tony knew exactly where that 'little push' came from.

"Look, guys, I-I can't. I promised someone- a... friend, that I wouldn't tell. And if I've learned anything from Spangles over here," Tony nodded towards Steve, who blushed profusely at being called out. "Than I shouldn't be breaking that promise. It's immoral." Tony took a breath, hoping his friends would just drop it so he could go home and wallow in self misery until he came up with a plan to get Bruce out of his home. Because as he thought many towns before, he would not be leaving such a good kid in the hands of an abusive asshole. "Because his trust means a lot to me, and I plan not to break it."

Thor was the next who spoke out, a frown on his puppy dog face. "Yes, well, I believe that is an excellent rule, however, there must be exceptions to that rule." His thick English accent boomed the halls, echoing in the empty space and leaving a ringing in everyone's ears. His voice was just to loud. Tony wasn't sure Bruce would like Thor to much.

"I don't think so, Thor. It's important that he trusts me. I'm all he has," That comment seemed to spark something. All eyes lit up and any wonder or curious others that was in the increased ten fold. They were putting the puzzle together, yet were completely unaware of the outcome at the same time. He contemplates for a moment. If he wanted Bruce to be safe, he'd have to sacrifice the younger boy's trust. It was the only solution, and Tony didn't like it one bit. "If I tell you guys, you have to promise to keep it between us, okay?"

"That depends on the severity of the situation," Phil glared, though not harsh at Tony, if only a warning glance. Meaning, 'you better tell us or we'll force it out of you'.

"That's what I should have said," Tony mumbled, if only to himself. He sighed and finally looked up to enter their gaze once again. "Okay, Okay. So, there's this guy in my English- and Spanish and math-, his name is Bruce, Bruce Banner." The genius hesitated before telling them the next part. He really didn't want to be the one doing this. "And his father h-hits him. Real bad. He really hurts him, guys."

Shocked expressions, sad expressions, wide eyes and skeptical, yet they all knew what Tony had said was true. Tony didn't lie about things like this, and he definitely didn't joke about them either. Serious issues like these were the only things Stark ever thought was worth his attention. He treated them with respect.

"Are you sure, Tony?" Natasha, skeletal as always, wanting to make shire she got the whole story without any bull crap or lies. Her stare hardened but not into an angry one. She was simply making sure.

"Positive. He was my partner in English for an assignment, and when he came over to my house he spilled his guts out... reluctantly. And today, the teacher said he had an 'accident' and would be in the hospital for at least a week," The genius fought back tears because yes, he felt bad. He felt so awful that he didn't tell anyone when he first heard it. It would have save Bruce from even more pain. But at he same time, he had just broken his promise to Bruce, and had lost his trust. Tony was all Bruce had left to trust.

"Tony this is freaking bullshit! We need to report this now, or else Bruce will get hurt again and again," Clint barged in, standing up straight and stomping his feet firmly on the ground. He'd stand up and make sure Tony did what was right. However, the pained expression on the other boy's face made Clint back down some. It was obvious how much Tony liked the kid and wanted to keep him safe, but to do so, they'd need to report it to the police, or the school.

"No, Clint, please. I swore I wouldn't tell anyone, I promised him, Clint! I don't want to break that promise to him!" Tony pleaded, nearly on the edge of spilling his tears, although he fought tooth and nail to stop it from happening. Tony would never plead, he had to much dignity to do something so weak and pathetic. He was anything but weak.

"Saying nothing will only make it happen again, Tony! We need to help this Bruce kid now!"

"Help me with what?"

Oh no...

Damn, he's been saying that a lot recently.

Tony looked behind Steve, only to stare straight into the big brown orbs of the same Bruce Banner who had told him his biggest secret because Bruce thought he could trust Tony. He wore a black t-shirt, worn jeans and the same thrifted sneakers. The only difference was another red stain on the shoe. Tony knew what it was now, but he wished he didn't. Wasn't Bruce supposed to be in the hospital still? It had only been three days since he had last seen Bruce in school, and he was already out. School was over as well, there was no point in him being here!

"Bruce? What are you doing here? I thought you were still in the hospital!" Tony stuttered through his sentence, pushing past Steve and Phil to reach his new friend, smiling slightly although his heart was breaking at the sight on the white cast on his arm. So many bruises on his face and neck, Tony thought he'd cry right there on the spot.

"They let me out early, seeing as though other people had more serious injuries and I didn't really need to be there anymore. Dad dropped me off so I could get the work that I missed form the past few days," it had been the most words Tony ever heard Bruce say before, and he was proud of his younger counterpart. Bruce didn't smile back though. "Why were you talking about me?"

"Look, Bruce-"

"Because you're in trouble and we're trying to save you!"

"Clint! Shut the hell up!"

"Save me? Tony you didn't-" But Bruce stopped short of his words, his breath catching in his throat a sit suddenly became to hard to breathe. Had Tony told them his secret? He promised, he swore and than Bruce's only friend broke his promise. What else had Tony said? What if he was making fun of Bruce behind his back, or spreading rumors. Oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god, oh god.

Tony noticed how Bruce's arms tightened significantly around the pile of books and worksheets he had been clinging to. 

"I'm sorry, Bruce! It was the only way to keep you safe!" 

"Y-You lied! You lied to me after you swore you wouldn't!" Bruce was all but sobbing, crumbing on to a heap on the floor, papers and textbooks falling to the floor and scattering around the tile. He broke, digging his blunt finger nails into his scalp and ripping at his hair, hiding his face in his black, curly hair. Tony hadn't expected such a hug meltdown, but then again, he wasn't the one being abused almost everyday. Bruce was devastated, beyond broken. First his father, and now this? He thought he could trust Tony, because Tony promised. And then he went ahead and broken that promise because he thought it would save Bruce! If anything Bruce just wish he does when he hit his head on the stairs! He wish he was dead because he was a monster! His father was right, he was a useless moron, undeserving of friends and love. Bruce wasn't capable of leading a normal life because he didn't deserve it.

"Brucie, wait. Let me explain-"

"No. Stop. I don't want to hear it, okay? I just want to go home."

"We all know you don't."

"What do you know about me!? Nothing! You know nothing because you could care less about me!"

"If I didn't care than how come I was trying to help you, idiot!"

"Get over here, idiot! You deserve it and you know it! I'm just trying to discipline you but if you're going to be stubborn, I'll put you in your place! Ungrateful bitch!"

Silence. Bruce stayed huddled in his little egg on the ground, cowering in fear under the older teen, gazing up at him with fearful eyes, flooding with tears and pouring over the edges. Tony was seething over him, unable to comprehend why Bruce wouldn't understand that they were just helping him.

"We're just helping you, Bruce."

"I'm helping you Bruce. Helping you learn some god damn manners you whore! Now get over here before I have to come get you myself! You have until the count of five!"

1...

2...

3...

4...

5...

"Bruce... please."

But Bruce only ran, grabbing the most important things and he ran out the door faster than lightning. Tony didn't follow after, he would do what needs to be done.

Whether Bruce liked it or not.
———————————————————————————

"Thanks."

"Huh?" Tony whipped around in his chair, only to see a much better off Bruce. His hair was combed into neat little curls that spelled out adorable. He had a new shirt on, another T-Shirt, as well as some nice bran jeans and new Keds. The bruises were almost completely gone, except for the few scraps and stubborn bruises that wouldn't go away. His eyes were more vibrant, shining with new found happiness that wasn't there before. He looked amazing.

"Thanks. For helping me." Bruce smiled shyly, blushing a rosy red and scratching the back of his neck as he gaze dat the floor in awkwardness. He hadn't planned this out at all and was going on his own script in his mind. He didn't expect Tony to smile back.

"It's no problem, Bruce. I couldn't let you stay there any longer," Tony chuckled though it was full of regret and hesitation as Bruce had still yet to look him in the eyes. Back to his shy, old ways. "Y'know you're my friend Bruce."

The younger boy choked on his air. "W-what?"

"You're my friend and I love you." That was new for Bruce. Those three words he hadn't heard for years were finally back in the one mouth he wanted to hear it from. His father was in jail now, brought away to a mental institution to help him with his mental illnesses which Bruce didn't know he suffered from.

Bruce thought he would cry, but held it back because they were still in the classroom, though the bell for dismissal to horn was about to go off.

"I love you too, Tony. Thank you, for everything." Tony only nodded. When the bell rang the two walked out to Tony's car, who drove them to his house.

Well, Tony guessed it was Bruce's house too. After all, Bruce lived here now, not as a son or as a brother, but as a friend, and as someone who Tony cared about.

Bruce never thought he'd leave that house and get to live here with the Tony Stark, but here he was, sleeping in a queen size bed living the good life with the older boy as a new brother. How Maria convinced Howard to adopt the boy, Tony would never know. But nonetheless, both Tony and Bruce were happy.

For a moment, Bruce thought that dreams really did come true.