The tower is quiet at this time of night. There’s the faint hum of electronics, the distant sounds of the city outside, but all Tony can hear is Bruce’s breathing and heartbeat. He can hear all the distant memories, good and bad, echoing inside of his skull like the sound of a concert in the distance.
Tony doesn’t want this to end, doesn’t want Bruce to leave. He doesn’t want to lose the one person who made him feel good about himself, who didn’t expect him to change a thing.
“If you changed, you wouldn’t be the selfish, smug, sarcastic asshole I like so much,” Bruce chuckles before pecking Tony on the cheek and standing to walk away.
Tony should have seen this coming.
In a way, he did. He knew Bruce never stayed in one place for long, but this is different. Now, Bruce is protected and he has people who care about him. Tony just can’t understand why the scientist would want to leave this all behind, but then again, he never was being chased consistently. Sure, Bruce was fine for now, but for how long?
Tony reaches a hand out to Bruce’s face, and jumps a little when his hand is caught in the calloused yet gentle hands of the doctor.
“Tony, you need to sleep.”
“Are you seriously still up?” Bruce frowns and places his hands on his hips as he waits for Tony to respond.
“I am still up, seriously. Nothing funny about it at all,” Tony replies with a hint of mirth. “Why are you awake?”
Bruce walks over to the screen Tony is standing in front of and pushes it away. Before he can ask, Bruce pulls him into a slow, deep kiss, his hands resting on Tony’s waist.
“Oh. Right. Yeah, okay. JARVIS, save my work and shut everything down.”
“Of course, sir”
Tony returns his attention to the smiling doctor in front of him, and is unable to resist running his fingers through the dark, wavy locks before resuming the kiss.
“You can try to hold vigil all you want, but you’ll fall asleep soon enough and I’ll be gone early in the morning.”
Tony snorts. “I’ve pulled all-nighters before.”
“Not for three days straight.”
“I’ve gone a week.”
Bruce sits up and his brow furrows in concern. “Tony, that’s extremely unhealthy.”
Laughter. “You’re telling me. I was running on a combo of coke and amphetamines.”
Now it’s Bruce’s turn to reach out for Tony. He doesn’t flinch when his hand is caught.
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
Tony looks down and away, and Bruce automatically knows.
There’s something wrong and Bruce knows it, because his own heart rate is going up, even though he doesn’t know why. He tries to wake up completely, but he’s been so tired lately that it’s just so hard not to fall back asleep. The depression sucker punched him, and it’s been taking all his strength not to try and kill himself, so he sleeps.
But now, something is definitely wrong and he has to get the Other Guy under control while trying to become fully coherent and take in what’s going on next to him in bed.
Tony’s body jerks as fragments of sentences try to fight their way out of his mouth. His entire body is soaked with sweat, even though it’s early April, and Bruce feels dampness on the mattress. A quick sniff lets him know it’s urine, and that’s all it takes for him to completely wake up.
Bruce knows he has to be careful about waking Tony up, because whatever he’s dreaming about is already pretty traumatic if it’s leading to bed wetting at such a late stage in his life.
Carefully, Bruce pulls Tony into his arms and rocks him back and forth, shushing him and quietly chanting, “Tony, wake up.”
Five minutes pass before the engineer finally calms down and his eyes shoot open, tears spilling forth immediately. He trembles in Bruce’s arms, unaware of where he is, and begins to fight and scream, thinking he’s still asleep.
“Tony calm down! It’s okay!” Bruce shouts as he tries to restrain his boyfriend. Tony’s legs kick and his arms try to pull apart, but the words still seem trapped in his mouth. Bruce realizes that Tony’s not awake yet; his eyes are open, but he’s still dreaming.
Bruce pins him to the mattress and yells, “Wake up!” until Tony blinks a few times and lifts his head off the pillow, looking around nervously.
The doctor nods and sighs with relief, pulling Tony close to his chest and rubbing his back as Tony cries.
There’s a knock at the door, a concerned voice, but Bruce can’t focus too much on it. He barely manages to shout out, “We’re fine!” and the voice walks away.
Bruce doesn’t go back to sleep. He lets Tony bury his face in the hair on his chest and urges his lover to breathe slowly and deeply. It’s only when he feels Tony’s muscles relax and breathing even out that he allows himself sleep.
Bruce never asked Tony about his dreams, because it seemed like the sooner Tony was able to put it past him, the better he functioned. Still, he now worried because if he wasn’t there to wake Tony up and comfort him in the middle of the night, the billionaire would no doubt turn back to drugs.
“You can’t go back to the way things were before.”
“You weren’t here before, so my life is already kind of going that way.”
“Don’t try to make me feel guilty, Tony. I have to go.”
“No you don’t.”
Bruce sighs and shakes his head. “I’m not having this argument again.”
“You’re afraid, I get it, but that doesn’t mean you can just flit about at your whim. You have friends now, you have me now; you can’t make such a rash decision without first considering how others would handle it.”
Bruce hates when Tony gets like this. It’s hypocritical, because Tony never once cared about how his actions affected others, and here he was trying to reprimand Bruce for doing the same thing.
“I don’t think you really ‘get it,’ or else you wouldn’t be sitting up trying to fight the urge to sleep just to argue me into staying.”
“Bruce, please,” Tony begs, resting his head on Bruce’s chest. Despite himself, Bruce starts scratching Tony’s head, this position as familiar as the scars on his own body.
“Tony…what are you doing?”
Tony hums. “Resting.”
Everyone looks over to the two in the easy chair. Bruce has his feet up on the ottoman, and Tony decides it looks comfortable, so he climbs on top of Bruce and lays his head on his chest.
“Feeling cozy, Tony?” Clint asks.
“Yep. The doctor’s got a nice body for napping on.” He adjusts his head so that his ear is lying over Bruce’s left pectoral, and he can feel the slightly increased heartbeat thudding beneath his cheek.
Bruce feels his face flush, and his arms are getting tired from holding the book up over Tony.
“You’re going to crush him with your fat ass,” Clint warns, not without a chuckle.
“You like my fat ass. You wish I’d come sit on you.”
“You wish I’d let you sit on me.”
“You know what, for someone with such a fat ass themselves, you’re quick to call people out.”
“Oh, but I’m not as bad as the captain.”
Steve turns pink and frowns. “My butt is not…bad.”
Natasha chuckles. “I’ll say.”
They launch into a discussion of butts and other features of the human anatomy, and Bruce tries to go back to reading, albeit uncomfortably. Tony looks up at him and says quietly, “You can put your arms around me, you know. It’ll be better.”
Bruce hesitates for a moment. He doesn’t want the others to get any ideas, but he can tell they’re not even really paying attention.
Slowly, Bruce positions his right arm around Tony’s shoulder, his hand resting in the thick, dark hair, and his left arm wraps around, resting on Tony’s back.
It’s oddly comfortable.
“I’m sorry, Tony. I really am. I don’t want to leave, but I need to. This is something for my own mental sanity. If I’m in one place for too long, I grow restless and paranoid.”
Tony sighs into Bruce’s chest and his shoulders slump. “I know, and I know why, but how can I get you to understand that this is different? You’re safe here; why would you give that up?”
Tony sits up a little to look Bruce in the eye. “What children?”
Bruce smiles as he recalls his fond memories in Calcutta of the orphanage he visited on a regular basis.
“There was this orphanage in Calcutta. I gave inoculations to all the new children and gave them all regular checkups. I helped get it cleaned up, find more reliable people to run it, and I left that behind. It’s been a year since I’ve been back, and don’t get me wrong; these six months have been wonderful, but I put a lot more into that orphanage. It’s my reminder of why I’m still alive; even though there’s the Other Guy and he’s done terrible things, I’m still me, and I can plant a few small trees to replace the redwoods he’s uprooted.”
Tony’s fingers draw abstract shapes in Bruce’s skin as he listens. The orphanage is Bruce’s Iron Man suit, and at least in that respect, he understands. He understands enough to stop resisting.
“Okay. You can go.”
Bruce laughs lightly. “I didn’t realize I was waiting for your permission.”
Tony snorts and rolls off, lying back down on his own pillow. “Everyone needs my permission.”
Bruce laughs again and takes Tony’s cue, wrapping his arm around Tony and hiding his face in Tony’s neck.
“I’ll miss you,” Bruce whispers into the tanned skin.
“I love you.”
“Love you too.”
Tony’s throat tightens and he chokes out, “Goodnight,” for the last time until who knew how long.