Fury can remember worrying about having Banner aboard, months ago when all this finally started. There were the obvious concerns about the guy freaking out and destroying the place, so they built the cell that had failed to hold Loki. Then he’d worried that if Banner found out about the cell he’d be insulted and get mad and destroy the place. (Then he met Banner, and he was embarrassed about building the thing because damn the guy was so painfully shy, so abjectly apologetic about just being alive and Tony... Tony fell for him so hard, so fast, it made their heads spin.) He’d basically been worried that having a ‘big green rage machine’, in Tony’s words, in a pressurised metal container at 30,000 feet was a risk. Something could go wrong. And something did, although the blame was squarely placed on Loki’s shoulders and besides, Stark covered the bill.
Now it was Stark he was worried about, freaking out and doing a hell of a lot more damage than the Hulk had done because his rage was focused, and focused on SHEILD.
In their defence, they had located Banner less than thirty-six hours after he’d been snatched. Fury doesn’t think it will make up for fact that the people who snatched him were once a part of SHEILD and thus privy to certain sensitive information.
It would have been helpful to question them, but he couldn’t because Stark had killed them all during his not so covert rescue. The facility they were tracked to had been reduced to rubble, a tomb for the eight strong group who had lured Banner away from the safety of Stark Tower, subdued him before the other guy could lodge a formal protest and flown him a few hundred miles to bleed him dry.
The doctors onboard are saying he’s okay. He’s experiencing painful muscle spasms and that might have something to do with the way they were holding him, trapped between his two genetic states, half-human, half-Hulk, by way of a serum being pumped steadily into his constantly tearing body through IVs plugged roughly into the arteries in his forearms, neck and thighs. The sounds of pain – both human and inhuman – were how Tony had found him in the labyrinthine maze. Fury’s certain he would have torn the roof off the place if there had been no other way.
Before he’d worried about what would happen if Banner lost it. Now they knew what happened when Tony did.
Tony stands and bites his nails and refuses to leave the room.
When they first arrived one of the medics started to fasten a restraint around the patient’s wrist for ‘safety’s sake’ and Tony broke his nose talking him out of it. Bruce is obviously in pain but he doesn’t have the strength to change. His muscles are shot to hell, kept on the brink of genetic mutation for hours on end. His nerves are like live wires, raw and exposed. The sedative’s holding him under but he’s still spasming every couple of minutes. Still, he’s better than he was in the truck coming home, jumping like an electrified frog, fighting Iron Man’s iron grip, yelling and pleading and begging Tony to make it stop.
He looks more restful now at least, eyes closed, head turned towards where Tony hovers, standing guard and waiting for him to recover so they can get the fuck out of here. He’s angry, so angry, at not being told there are renegade groups of ex-SHEILD employees out there who had secrets they could exploit about people he cared for; about a man he loved. He’s disposed of one team today; he’s determined to take out all the others too. He’s got a mission again, a cause, but right now there’s something more important he needs to take care of.
Clint watches through the glass, still trying to work them out after months of knowing them. When Loki first appeared, Natasha had to bring Banner in from his hide-out in India. Up until then, SHIELD had monitored him moving around the globe, watching as he settled somewhere for a while before something spooked him and he ran while they dealt with it. They were his guardian angels, protecting from a distance until they needed his help. Everyone imagined that once the battle was over he would vanish again, go back to being a blip on someone’s radar.
But he didn’t. He left with Tony Stark of all people and the next thing they knew he was living in Stark Tower, Tony’s unofficial lab-partner. Within a month they’d come up with new shielding for the helicarrier’s engines to protect from the type of attack Loki had subjected them to. Two months later, Fury’s new line of weaponry was functional, if on lock-down until, as Tony put it, ‘another badass alien decides the Earth’s easy pickings’. Clearly neither of them were happy about putting their energies into weapons development but they conceded the point that Loki hadn’t been acting alone and nuking one spaceship probably hadn’t killed an entire race. Without that nuke, there would be no New York City.
Tony hasn’t left Bruce’s side since pulling him out of the hell they found him in. He’s refused to leave him alone with anyone. And now Clint’s convinced there’s more going on between the two geniuses than just science because he’s been holding the guy’s hand, stroking his hair and murmuring to him for hours while the effects of whatever those bastards were pumping into Banner’s system slowly wore off. It’s teeth-achingly sweet and in the end he just needs to get out of here.
“How is he?” Steve asks, and it’s clear the worst is over because Bruce is comfortable now, the spasms all but gone.
Tony has one hand wrapped around Bruce’s while his other arm is stretched along the top of the pillows, fingers in his greying hair, stroking gently. It’s a level of care Steve wouldn’t have believed him capable of before now and what he’s witnessing is changing his entire opinion of Howard’s son.
“Peaceful, at last,” Tony replies quietly. There’s a note of danger underlining his tone which suggests Steve remains exactly where he’s standing and doesn’t get any closer. Tony broke a medic’s nose earlier today. “I almost wish I hadn’t killed the bastards so I could pump that stuff into them, see how much they like it.”
Steve ignores that. He knows the taste of revenge, he’s sure Tony does too. “Tony, you need to sleep.”
He shakes his head. “No. Not until I’ve got him home.”
“Thanks. But I’m not leaving.”
Accepting he isn’t going to win this one, Steve folds his arms and leans back against the wall. “You’ve been taking good care of him.”
Tony makes a frustrated sound, closes his eyes and speaks as though through gritted teeth. “He’s not a fucking monster.“ He takes a deep breath, in and out. “He’s a human being, like you and me. You were all so freaked out having him aboard the first time with no reason. He’s in control, like we are. We all go crazy sometimes and when we do things get broken. He’s no different; he just has the ability to... do more damage faster. You were lucky it worked when they pumped you full of chemicals, it went wrong for him and he’s been paying the price ever since. He’s been through more than any of us can even imagine and it stops now. I swear to God I’ll kill anyone who lays a wrong finger on him.”
Steve wants to challenge him but he doesn’t. He just nods.
Bruce’s eyes are open, trying to reach him, and Steve carefully approaches the bed while Tony reassures him that he’s okay and he’s safe. Bloodshot brown eyes meet Steve’s for just a second before he turns his head and settles his gaze on Tony. Steve gets it; he’s not needed here. Not at the moment anyway.
“If there’s anything I can do....” Neither of them are paying him any attention so he backs up and exits the room without another word.
He opens his eyes and sees Tony smiling at him, looking like he might start to cry at any moment. “Hey.” His voice sounds like his throat feels; cracked and broken.
Bruce tries to squeeze his hand but he can’t seem to find the strength. “What happened?”
“You’ll remember soon enough. And if you don’t, probably for the best.”
“Bad guys tried to get you. We kicked their asses.”
He isn’t buying it but he doesn’t push either. He can take a wild but educated guess. He aches everywhere, feels like he’s gone twelve rounds with something bigger than he is, even on his bad days. Maybe he has. He hopes no one got hurt that didn’t deserve to. He’s glad he doesn’t remember. “Thanks.”
“I’ll always find you.” He can hear the anger and upset in Tony’s voice. “I would tear the world apart looking for you.” Whatever happened must have been Very Bad.
“I know you will.” He has a headache. His eyes hurt so he closes them. Tony’s fingers in his hair feel nice and he concentrates on that for a while, drifting in and out of sleep. At the edges of his consciousness, the other guy’s doing the same. It feels like he’s been injured too, which is strange because very little can hurt him. He’s taken missiles in the chest and brushed them off like cockroaches.
He sleeps for what feels like a couple of seconds, but it must be long because he has fleeting dreams of blood and screams and when he suddenly wakes Tony’s asleep, head down on the edge of his bed, holding on to Bruce’s hand like he never plans to let go. He turns his head, sees Natasha sitting on the other side of the bed and smiles warily.
“He hasn’t slept in three days,” she tells him. And he stares at her until his breathing evens out and he can speak.
“When they found you, you were in a decommissioned SHEILD lab. They had you hooked up to this drug that kept you locked in transformation. You were screaming. Tony tore the place to pieces, killed everyone.”
It’s as she’s talking that he experiences a bright flash of memory – the sharp break of bones, nauseating, tearing of muscles, the screaming of his heart in cardiac arrest, every nerve firing like live wires – gone as fast as it started. He scrabbles to sit up, turning away from Tony, throwing up over the other side of the bed.
Medics are there in seconds, cleaning up, checking his vitals. Bruce can’t quite believe that his billionaire playboy lover wakes up just in time to see him wiping his acid filled mouth on the back of a trembling hand – Jeez, that must look so attractive – he’s relieved he hasn’t vomited all over Tony’s $10,000 sneakers or his beloved Black Sabbath T-shirt and he feels a little like crying.
Someone’s trying to get him to drink something but he doesn’t want to. His head feels like a building fell on him and hasn’t been lifted off yet. The noise of everyone suddenly there is too much, making his throat fill with bile as his skull threatens to crack open.
Then it’s all gone, and there’s just Tony sitting on the very edge of the bed fixing the IV back into his hand, murmuring over and over again that he’s okay, that he just needs to take it easy and the pain will fade, he promises.
He’s never seen Tony like this before. Sure, he knows the guy loves him – he’s said it often enough, shown it every day they’ve been together. But he isn’t sure he’s ever really believed it up until now, and he’s always imagined his bedside manner would suck.
Closing his eyes he concentrates on Tony’s fingers stroking the back of his hand and slowly the saline and whatever drugs they’ve got him hooked to start to take effect again. He trusts Tony completely, trusts that he’s already checked what’s in the IV line and has deemed it okay. Right now he has no choice but to assume he’s surrounded by friends.
Tony’s managed to squeeze onto the bed despite the protests of the medics who’ve long since given up. He’s lying on his side with Bruce in his arms, his temple against Tony’s sternum, Tony’s chin resting on his head, their fingers tangling restlessly.
“I don’t want you killing for me,” Bruce murmurs, and Tony groans predictably.
“They didn’t deserve to live.”
“They might just have been f-“
“If the words ‘following orders’ are seriously coming out of your mouth, Banner, I will find something to stab you with. Gently.”
He smiles and rubs his nose against Tony’s T-shirt. It’s nice, being held, being cared for. He’s going to get too used to it and then Tony... but that way lies misery and madness. His reputation is as infamous as Bruce’s is feared even if what Pepper’s said is true; that Bruce is the first and only one since Afghanistan. It makes him wonder if this could possibly be something real.
“They were torturing you. People mess with my stuff, they should expect to pay the highest price.”
That makes Bruce laugh. “I’m your stuff now?”
“Of course!” He says it like it’s obvious and that makes him laugh too, which makes him remember he has a fierce headache. Tony strokes the backs of his fingers down Bruce’s spine and back up, he can feel the touch through the thin material of the medical gown he’s ended up wearing. He’s over the embarrassment of waking up in strange places stark bullock naked, so the idea of being rescued in the nude doesn’t warrant a single thought. But that he’s been stripped and held captive that way is bothering him. At least the gown has a back to it, even if he is wrapped also in sheets and Tony Stark. “Seriously. You’re not a lab rat. You’re very important to me, you know that.”
“So if they’d snatched Steve?”
“I’d pull any of the team out of trouble, anytime. They’re my friends.”
“Would there have been so many corpses?”
He feels Tony’s arm tighten around him and doesn’t need an answer.
“Hey, caterpillar! I thought we were going for lunch.”
Tony strides through the lab, flicking his fingers over screens, sending windows scurrying into every corner. Jarvis keeps everything backed up, every keystroke and scribble, and with Tony around he needs to. There is no point in saying he isn’t ready or just needs to finish... his hand is raised to complete the final part of the equation he’s working on just as Tony flicks it out of the way, standing staring, frowning, through the screen at Bruce.
He just can’t get angry, can’t even get frustrated with him and it has nothing to do with the other guy.
“I know this great place.” He knows that tone. He’s heard it before. It means he won’t be seeing the lab again until at least tomorrow. Last time Tony said he knew a great place, they ended up in Cuba. “Just checking, you’re feeling relaxed, chilled out, in control...?”
“Where are we going, Tony?”
He steps around the screen, reaching for Bruce’s hands. “How’s your French?”
“You’re taking me to France?”
“Switzerland, actually. Geneva. If you’re in the mood. There’s this fantastic restaurant, very chic. And a great hotel overlooking the lake; huge beds, stunning views. You’d love the old town too. Incredibly romantic.”
“You’ve taken a lot of lovers to Europe?”
He tilts his head to one side and frowns. “What do you think I’m doing here?”
“I think you’re flattering me.”
“No.” He shakes his head. “You’re a genius, and this is me saying that. I don’t need to flatter you, I wouldn’t insult you.”
Then he realises what Tony is doing. “You’re travelling with me. I’ve spent the last five years on the move, travelling around the world. You’re worried I’m going to feel trapped here, get itchy feet and start running again.”
Tony looks at him steadily. “I know your travels didn’t involve first star hotels and champagne bars.” He’s trying to understand and Bruce loves him all the more for it.
“Geneva sounds good.” He drops a kiss to Tony’s mouth. “I’ll grab my toothbrush.”