"A cocktail party? Really, Tony?" Bruce Banner pushed his glasses farther up his nose, giving Tony Stark an unbelieving look.
"Not a cocktail party, I told you," Tony objected. "Just drinks with friends. She may have agreed to your participation in our little project, but I want Birdie to get to know you. It's important; she has enough to be afraid of."
Tony had shown up in the lab space he had given Bruce in Stark Tower a short while earlier to go over ideas for what Tony was calling 'Project Tortuga'. Not that Bruce had any idea exactly why he'd named it that. He was beginning to chalk up such mysteries as 'it's just Tony', even though he'd known the man less than a month.
Bruce laughed, but it was a tired sound. "Unlike you, she isn't crazy. Of course she's going to fear me—" he drops his eyes "—fear the other guy." Tony's hand smacked the side of his head and he looked up in shocked amazement. "Ow!"
"Did I say that? I said you, afraid of you." Tony looked exasperated at Bruce's lack of comprehension. "The green guy, he isn't a factor in this. You, Doctor Bruce Banner, are who she's afraid of.
"That makes no sense." And it didn't – why would Charlotte Sparrow be afraid of him, of Bruce, when the alternative should scare the hell out of her?
Tony got the look on his face he usually reserved for idiots and politicians. "And I told her you were a genius," he muttered under his breath.
"Then explain it to me—in small words," he added facetiously.
"Funny." He crossed his arms. "You know what it's like to be hunted. Imagine spending centuries keeping a secret like an Immortal's. Waking up from the dead, being driven from your home by people who had loved you yesterday. Your family, your friends, thinking you're a demon, a monster. And then you find others like you. If you're lucky, they explain what you are, if you aren't, they kill you; for keeps this time. How hard would it be to really trust another after all that?"
Listening to Tony paint a picture of what it must be like to be an Immortal made him feel a sad empathy. "Pretty hard," Bruce admitted.
"Yeah. In Birdie's case, she kept the secret until one night, in the early years of World War Two, she meets a guy who knows exactly what she is and tells her they need her help. That the bad guys have Immortals in their service and are up to no good. She steps up, does her part, when it would have been easier not to, and a hell of a lot safer. And after the war….she may have left that life behind, but those years haunt her, Bruce."
Bruce looked thoughtful. "This project of yours, if you can figure out what she wants to know, it's a double edged sword."
When Tony had come to him yesterday, telling him that he needed his help in identifying an Immortal's power, he'd been immediately intrigued. Tony had been right in saying it was right up his alley. But until this moment, he really hadn't taken the time to consider the human element. He'd met Charlotte briefly the night after the battle with Loki and the Chitauri, but most of his impressions of her had come from her interactions with the other people there. That woman was a warrior, unwavering and capable. He should have realized that like the rest of them, she had fears and weaknesses.
"It could protect her, but it could also leave her a target, vulnerable to anyone who wants to use her or other Immortals as some sort of weapon." There was a determined look in Tony's eyes that made it clear he would never let that happen.
"Whether it's Loki or our own people."
"And you'd know exactly how to make it happen."
Bruce wasn't offended by Tony's statement, knowing that Tony trusted him and knew Bruce would never betray a friend. But there was a difference between knowing that Tony trusted him, and knowing it for herself.
"She's accepting me on faith, because of you," Bruce said, understanding, and wondering exactly how Tony Stark had gained such absolute trust from Charlotte Sparrow. Maybe one day, she'd trust Bruce enough to tell him.
"Exactly. I'd like there to a little more foundation than just my word that she can trust you."
"Okay, Tony. For your friend, and for you, drinks at your place."
"Great! No worries, Bruce. Women love the shy, socially awkward genius thing. Birdie will be trying to feed you up in no time."
"Hey!" he protested. "I am not socially awkward."
Rolling his eyes, Tony waved a hand at Bruce. "Have you looked in a mirror lately? You look like you slept in that jacket. And did I mention it was tweed?"
"It's comfortable." He smoothed the jacket down. It was comfortable. "Besides, we can't all look like we stepped off the pages of GQ."
"It's a gift, what can I tell you," Tony said airily. "Come on, we're going to be late."
As they walked towards the elevator, Tony asked, "Did you sleep in it?"
"Use it as a pillow?"
"Come on, truth."
"Okay, but it was only the once—"
"Ah hah! Knew it."
"The lab table was hard," Bruce defended himself. "It was only once," he repeated.
"Socially awkward," Tony crowed as the elevator door began to close.