Tony doesn’t hear the door open, but he does hear Banner’s stammered apology. “Shit. Sorry Tony, I should have knocked. Or something. Alerted JARVIS, maybe? I don’t really know what the protocol is.”
Tony puts down the arc reactor, and turns to see Bruce looking panicked and bumbling and ridiculous. It’s adorable. “No worries, Banner.” He says airily, but he’s interested in seeing his fellow scientist’s reaction to the giant metal lined hole in his chest. Even Natasha squicked out a little when she had first seen it.
“Do you want me to leave?” He asks nervously, managing to almost entirely keep eye contact with him. His gaze only flicks down briefly. “Pepper said—” He starts, before he ends the sentence abruptly.
Tony sighs. He knows what Pepper said—don’t bother him when he’s tinkering with the arc reactor. She plays it off like it’s a highly dangerous enterprise that could blow up at the slightest wrong touch or whatever, but Bruce is too smart to buy that. The damn thing lives in his chest, for God’s sake. It’s clearly not that sensitive.
Tony doesn’t like being bothered when he’s tinkering with the arc reactor because he fucking hates feeling vulnerable like this. He’s pretty sure Bruce knows this too. When he doesn’t answer immediately, Banner starts backtracking and goes to let himself out, but Tony stops him. “Is it urgent?” He asks, and Bruce hesitates. “Whatever you came up here for. Can it wait?”
“What? Oh. Uh, yeah I guess. Barton ordered takeout and I thought I should let you know before Steve and Thor inhale all the pepperoni.”
Tony considers it for a second. “How hungry are you?”
Bruce cocks his head to the side slightly, a cute habit that Tony has noticed when he’s trying to figure out the implications of something. “I could wait.” He counters eventually, and Tony beams.
“Want to help me with something?”
“If it involves sticking my hand in your chest, I’ll warn you, I have really chubby uncoordinated fingers.” He says immediately, and Tony can’t help but tut.
“Does Pepper tell everyone that story?”
Bruce smiles, and re-closes the door. “Only when she’s drunk.” He walks up to Tony’s work bench, the fucking mess that it is, and perches his ass on the corner. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll have a go.”
It’s been barely a week since aliens literally tried to take over the world, and barely a week since everyone decided it would be a great idea to move into the remains of Stark Tower, despite the fact that the top five floors had to be demolished and are being rebuilt from scratch. No-one wants to be alone, at least for a while, and even with five floors missing, Tony has the most space. Natasha can apparently settle anywhere, and Clint’s spent most of his time sleeping, still in recovery. Steve is still getting used to the twenty first century and it doesn’t really matter where he does it, since a cardboard box under a bridge is better than both World War Two and 1940’s Brooklyn. Thor’s from a whole different realm. Thor can adjust to anything.
But Bruce—Bruce is still getting used to being around people, to living in the developed world, but most of all, living with him. After all they’ve been through, the poor guy still gets star-struck. For anyone else, Tony would understand, but he’s pretty sure he’s the one who should be getting star-struck. Bruce has the most astonishing scientific mind he has ever encountered, and he feels inadequate being in the same room as him sometimes. He’s been trying to get Bruce up into his R&D candy land since the helicarrier.
“I’m sure your vast and varied scientific knowledge will suffice.” He says, rolling his eyes. Bruce still makes an effort not to look at the metal cylinder going through his chest. Tony appreciates it, but it’s not really necessary. “It doesn’t bite, you know.” He gestured at the hole, and Bruce blushes. “Got any thoughts on making the vibranium core last longer? This shit ain’t in infinite supply and I’m getting through it much faster than I’d like.”
“You know I’m not an expert on arc reactor technology.” He protests weakly, looking down at the blue glowing light on the work bench nervously. “Why don’t you ask Steve? I’m sure he knows more about this than me.”
Tony looks at him for a split second, before they both start laughing. “Okay, Steve probably knows nothing about it.” Bruce acknowledges. Tony can’t really remember seeing him laugh before; it’s a nice sound. Relaxing.
“Dad didn’t have much time for giving anyone a science lesson.” Tony agrees. He’s pretty sure he’s gleaned everything the old records—both SHIELD and his personal stash—will reveal, but it’s not enough. He’s still burning through a vibranium core every fortnight or so, and the more he needs, the more he is indebted to SHIELD. He hates owing people things.
“Have you spoken to Carter?” Bruce asks, sounding like he’d really rather not be asking. “I hear she’s, uh…”
“Still alive?” Tony provides helpfully. “I spoke to her a while ago. Howard really wasn’t big on sharing. Either she didn’t know anything, or she’s an exceedingly good liar.”
Bruce hums under his breath. “I guess I could take a look.” He says eventually, and Tony grins. He has suspected a scientific challenge might be enough to crack Banner out of his funk—he hopes he’s right. “But I’m not promising anything.”
“No promises required.” Tony wheels his chair back to allow Bruce a closer examination, smiling smugly. The scientist’s eyes widen when he begins examining the metal work, turning it over in his hands with the kind of reverence Tony only holds for whiskey and really good cheeseburgers. “Like what you see?” He grins obnoxiously. Bruce doesn’t even roll his eyes, too enraptured with the design.
“I… Y-Yeah. Tony, this is incredible. It’s genius.”
“You’re saying this like you’ve only just realised.” He already knows it’s incredible and he’s been told many times before, but something about Bruce Banner’s seal of approval is immensely satisfying.
“You built one of these in a cave?” He asks, sounding slightly sceptical.
“Well. Kinda. It was a bit shit, to be honest. And it was killing me. But essentially, yes.”
“How long can you leave it out?”
Tony pulls a face. “Uh. Probably should have put it back in ten minutes ago.” Bruce shoves it at him wordlessly, panic etched on his face. “I’m not going to die, Bruce.” He reassures him with a roll of his eyes. “Give me a hand.”
He’s rigged up a system that’s slightly more elaborate than Pepper sticking her hand in the hole, but it’s still much easier with another person to help. As Tony pulls the wire clear from the casing, Bruce takes it and connects it into the back of the arc reactor with great care. “It’s beautiful.” He murmurs, touching it lightly when it is securely back in Tony’s chest. His finger traces the ring where metal meets sensitive flesh, the wonder obvious on his face, before he realises what he’s doing. “Shit. Sorry. Sorry. I… Sorry.” He apologises profusely, but Tony just smirks.
“I know. Sometimes stroking my chest can be hard to resist.”
Bruce blushes some more, the red tinting his cheeks unbelievably adorable. He can barely tear his eyes away from Tony’s torso. He’s flattered. “Sorry.” Bruce says again, and makes towards the door.
“Don’t be.” Tony says with an unashamed grin, and grabs his shirt from the back of his chair. When his head pops out the top, Bruce still stands awkwardly in the door. “You want to grab some food?”
“There’s pizza in the kitchen.” Bruce replies dumbly.
“Pfft. I highly doubt there is any pizza left in the kitchen. Come on, Banner. My treat. I want to pick that big sexy brain of yours.”
Bruce scuffs a socked foot on the floor, before relenting. “Fine. Okay. Good. Yeah. … Food.”
Shit, he’s so awkward.
“But that’s what I’m saying! Get rid of all this and you’ll cut your power consumption by at least ten percent. Thirteen percent at a push.”
“But the aesthetic, Bruce.” He says firmly, but he’s joking. He knows Bruce is right, but he enjoys winding him up all the same, seeing how far he can push before he withdraws back into his shell. Bruce’s eyes shine when he gets excited, his wild curls falling down in front of his face. Tony catches himself noticing the soft curve of his lips as he frowns in annoyance.
“You asked for help making your heart battery more efficient and you’re concerning yourself with the aesthetic. Seriously, Stark?” The eye roll just tops it off as Bruce stands up, pushing his lab stool back with a deep huff. This is hilarious. He tries to conceal his amusement, but Bruce sees his smirk and scowls. His brow furrows and his nose wrinkles a little, and it’s so cute.
“What can I say?” Tony purrs. “I’m very appreciative of aesthetic.”
“Well, maybe you should be more appreciative of scientific breakthroughs.” He snaps, and oh shit, okay, apparently Bruce doesn’t realise that he’s totally been flirting for at least three hours. Crap.
“Bruce, come on—” He starts, trying to stop Bruce storming out in frustration.
Bruce spins on his heel and jabs a finger into his chest. Tony hisses as it lands on the sensitive skin joining the arc reactor casing; it does hurt, but he might have exaggerated just a little to play into Bruce’s tendency to fret over him. It works. He only feels slightly bad when Bruce switches immediately to his guilt complex. “Fuck! Tony, god, I’m sorry, I didn’t think. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Kiss it better?” Tony tries, because apparently subtlety isn’t working.
Usually he’s back instantly with a sharp retort or sarcastic comment, but for once, Bruce hesitates before giving him a tight smile. “Hilarious, Stark.” He says, and turns to leave.
“Wasn’t joking, Banner.”
Bruce freezes. Tony can’t see his face, but he can imagine the lines of reasoning Bruce’s brain must be processing right now. He turns slowly, a blush spreading across his cheeks. Tony’s not even sure he plays for the right team. Probably should have thought of that, but spending too much time with his fellow Avengers is starting to make him forget that straight people actually exist. They’ve been through enough together that shared experience trumps such concerns.
“Was more than just friends with Agent Coulson, let me tell you. You know Happy? They date frequently. Besides, she likes you.”
Bruce mulls that over, and Tony gives him some time to process it. Not everyone is down with relationships as open as theirs. Eventually, he asks, “She likes me?”
Tony lets out a snort of laughter. “That’s what you take out from that? In fact, she specifically told me that I should jump you before she gets there first. But I’m not that crude.”
Bruce looks bewildered at the turn of events, but Tony can handle bewildered. “If you’re not interested, no hard feelings, Banner. I’m not going to be too hurt.” As he says it, he considers their newly formed, tentative friendship, and wonders whether he could handle the tease of Bruce’s unintentional hotness on a regular basis. Possibly not.
“Does that seriously usually work? You’re not used to getting rejected, are you?” Bruce says with a slight shake of his head. Tony definitely feels disappointed, almost hollow. “Goodbye, Tony.”
“Did I come on too strong?” He shouts after. “Fuck.”
Bruce has barely stepped out of the door when Pepper lets herself in. “Was that Bruce I just passed in the corridor?” She says knowingly. “Totally knew you were lying about not boning him.”
Tony scowls. “Did you really just use the word boning?” He tuts in disbelief. Totally avoiding the actual question.
“He rejected you, huh?” Pepper says, and Tony swears she can read his fucking mind. “Never mind. Maybe he’s straight.”
Tony groans. “I should probably check these things before I humiliate myself.”
“Remember that for next time?” She advises, before drawing a stack of papers from a folder tucked under her arm. “Can you sign these for the contractors before you retreat into your den of self-pity? We have to get these in by tomorrow or we won’t get the new windows in time to have them fitted before the—”
Tony grabs the papers from her hand and scribbles his name on the line she has marked with a Post-it. “In what world do you think I care?” He grumbles, thrusting them back into her arms. “Is that everything?”
“I need you to sign this card, too.” She says. He flicks it open to see the rest of the team’s autographs on it already, including Bruce’s.
“What’s the cause?” He asks, because it’s bound to be for a charity auction. Their collective celebrity has made a group autograph a top money spinner at fundraisers. Steve encourages them to do as many as possible, but doesn’t seem to realise that the more things they sign, the less they are worth.
“Clearing up your mess downtown.” She says, and he grimaces. They might have saved the world from aliens, but there were plenty of people who lost lives, homes or jobs before he could get a nuke in that fucking wormhole. The clean-up has cost millions already, and they were still pulling a few bodies from the rubble.
“Donate ten million and tell whoever’s organising it that I’ll do one of those A Night With Tony Stark disasters for the auction.” He says, knowing he’ll probably regret it when it actually happens. Pepper looks surprised; he doesn’t do mixing with people, ever, but this Manhattan thing is a massive fuck-up and if he has to lose a night of his life to raise a bit more money, he’ll happily do it. Billionaire, philanthropist—he isn’t letting Rogers think that was all just talk.
“How generous of you.” Pepper says, and she’s not entirely joking. “It’s next week and yes, you are expected to attend. On time if possible.”
“Yeah, whatever, I’ll be there.”
Even Pepper, who is an expert at disguising her surprise, looks slightly taken aback, but she doesn’t question it. “Right. Excellent.” She says briskly, taking the card back. “And you should really go to bed, Tony. You look tired.”
He nods absently, making a vague promise to come down soon. He doesn’t. He doesn’t have the heart to tell her that he can’t sleep for the nightmares.
“Did you try stripping off the external casings?” Bruce asks as he enters the lab bright and early the next morning. Tony jumps, not expecting company, but he doesn’t apologise for letting himself in today. Clearly Bruce is adjusting to his environment well.
“Oh. Uh. Yeah.” Tony says, holding the new reactor out to him. Bruce takes it, and sits down next to him anyway to inspect it. “I can’t take too much out, else it’ll be too small for its socket.” He explains. “And I don’t much fancy replacing this-” He taps his chest lightly. “Any time soon.”
Bruce smiles tightly, his eyes lingering on Tony’s bare chest for just a touch too long. “Understandable. What are your savings with this one?”
“7%, according to JARVIS. I mean, it’s a start.”
“It glows too much.” Bruce says firmly. “Every joule of energy you’re wasting with that stupid blue light is a joule not being used to power your damn heart.” Tony opens his mouth to protest, but Bruce cuts him off. “If you say anything about an aesthetic, I swear I will go back to India, take the reactor with me and leave you here to slowly die.”
Tony winces, but swallows his comment about the reactor being essential at glow parties.
“Sorry, that was—”
“Kind of dark.” He finishes, half way between impressed and trying to stop his hands shaking. “I like it.” He lies.
“Really, really inappropriate.” Bruce says seriously, and hands the reactor back to Tony gently. “And not something to joke about. I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t sweat it.” He breezes, trying not to sound false. From anyone else, he would probably be freaking out right now, but he knows Bruce won’t hurt him, even if the guy does have some major issues. “No harm done. You’re right about the light, though, loathe as I am to admit it.”
Bruce sends him a small smile, and begins suggesting ways to reduce the power wastage. It’s relaxing work, bouncing ideas off of each other and actually being able to talk science for once. Three hours pass, and when they plug the reactor back in, it lights up a clean, soft white. “What are the readings, J?” Tony asks as he tries to accustom himself with the new colour scheme.
“14% improvement over the original model.”
Bruce hums, taps the glass frontage lightly. “It’s getting there.”
“Got any more plans to ruin it in the name of improvement?” Tony teases, not really expecting an answer.
“It’s warm.” He says, thinking out loud. “Doesn’t that feel weird?” Tony shrugs. He’s pretty much got used to it now, but initially it had been the hardest thing to adjust to. “It’s wasting energy through here, too. If we can increase the efficiency for heat as well as light, we could shave another two or three percent off.”
“You’re really getting into this, aren’t you?” Bruce blushes, looking down at his hands. “No, it’s good. I’ve never seen anyone as enthusiastic about the arc reactor that wasn’t trying to steal it to fuel a global arms race.”
Bruce lets out a reluctant laugh. “I like working on new projects.” He admits. “And I… I like working with you.”
“I’m sure we can find something new to work on once this has been pushed to the limit.” He offers. Bruce’s vast intellect would be a valuable addition to his team. By now, he’s searching for reasons to keep him around.
Banner mumbles something under his breath about not wanting to intrude. “Don’t be stupid, Banner. Besides, I’m sure you can get the reactor even more efficient if you tried.”
Bruce purses his lips as he studies the metal. Tony’s had it out too much today already, so he’s having to do his inspection while it’s fixed in his sternum, which is highly amusing. Tony exaggerates his shivers when Bruce brushes against sensitive flesh, and Bruce tries to act all platonic and innocent as he touches up Tony’s bare chest. It’s great fun.
“Have you tried different metal alloys for the components?” He says eventually, removing his glasses. He wipes at them with the hem of his shirt, which can only have caused them to smudge more. “If you used a metal that conducted less heat, you’d get more output.”
“But by definition, it has to be a good conductor.”
Bruce shrugs. “Of electricity. Not heat. You’re the expert, but it could be worth looking in to.”
Tony mulls it over, immediately considering the relevant properties of tens of different materials. He couldn’t be sure, but Bruce might have a point. If it were anyone else, Tony would be jealous and beyond infuriated at his seemingly endless array of useful ideas, but he couldn’t be angry at Bruce. The guy is so damn likeable, the Hulk aside, and he’s remarkably humble for the extent of his genius.
“Think it over, anyway.” He says shortly, and stands to leave. Tony reaches out instinctively and grabs his wrist.
“You want to get dinner?” He asks, before letting Bruce go because he realises he’s being weird. “I’m really hungry. Let’s get dinner.”
“It’s two in the morning.” Bruce says delicately, looking down at him with a slight amused smile. “But I can cook, if you want.”
“What? Oh.” He hadn’t realised the time, and he wasn’t really that hungry. He’s pretty sure Bruce knows as much from the smug look on his face. “No, it’s fine.”
“I make a mean ramen.” He offers, enjoying Tony feeling uncomfortable. “No? Okay.”
The only way for Tony to win is to beat him at his own game. “Actually, yeah. Why not? Ramen.”
Bruce doesn’t falter, and heads towards the door. “It’s vegetarian ramen, I’m afraid.” He says conversationally. “But I’ve been told by many people that it’s very good.”
Tony rolls his eyes, and strongly suspects he’s going to get something out of a packet that includes some dodgy flavour powder as Bruce’s idea of a joke. He plays along anyway, though. “You cook for people a lot?” He asks, and gets a meagre shrug in response. “Then I’m hurt that you’ve never cooked for me.”
Bruce glances at him to see if he’s joking, but Tony won’t give anything away. He enjoys the tentative repartee he shares with Banner, even if it is mostly petty point scoring. He has achieved his original goal of making the other man hang out with him a little longer, but now it’s on Bruce’s terms, and that puts him on edge. Still, he isn’t one to back down from a challenge.
“I guess I thought the great Tony Stark would be above the kind of food that I make. That is, essentially vegetables and noodles and water.”
Suspicions confirmed, Tony laughs. Bruce’s floor is less well furnished than the ones higher up, but he’d never requested more furniture. “You know you can order whatever you need for this place.” He says. He’s not had a reason to come in since Bruce moved, but it’s still pretty much empty. There’s a shitty old couch with stained cushions that he refuses to believe was actually in Stark Tower when Banner arrived, and a rattling table, and that’s pretty much it.
“I have everything I need.” Bruce shrugs.
Tony grins knowingly. “You still think you’re going to get out of here sometime soon, don’t you? Go back to Kolkata or Moscow or Shanghai and help diseased orphans.”
“And what? You’re going to stop me?” Bruce laughs at the mere thought, and Tony is very aware that if he really wanted to leave, it would be foolish to attempt to prevent it.
“In a way.” He says cockily anyway. “Give it another week and you’re not going to want to go anywhere.”
“You’re infuriating.” Bruce says flatly, and sets a kettle full of water to boil. It’s only when he actually starts pulling mushrooms and peppers and green onions from the little fridge that Tony realises Bruce fully intends to cook for him. From scratch. Not out of a packet. “Make yourself at home.” He says when he notices Tony still hovering awkwardly in the entrance to the kitchen. “There’s only one chair, but I guess you can sit on the couch.”
“Can I help?”
Bruce takes one look at him and actually snorts with laughter. “Tony, sit down before you embarrass yourself. Have you ever cooked anything in your life?”
He thinks back to a charred, bitter mess in an airplane kitchen a few months ago and realises Bruce has a point. And like Bruce said, ramen is vegetables and noodles and water. His assistance isn’t necessary. As he sits on the saggy couch though, he feels like Bruce is winning their battle of sarcastic banter.
Barely five minutes later, a large bowl of steaming vegetables and noodles and broth is pressed into his hands. It smells fucking amazing, and it tastes even better. “Where did you learn to cook like this?” He manages between deep gulps of scalding hot, sweet and salty soup.
Bruce smiles, proud of himself. “This? In Japan.”
“I swear you’ve travelled even more than me.”
“That’s the thing about being on the run, I guess. Seen a lot of the world. Traded a lot of medical help for food. You should try my vegetable curry sometime. Straight from the bits of Mumbai that were really not designed for tourists.”
“You miss it.” Tony states. It’s clear in his tone, in his eyes, in the way he clutches at a bowl of fucking ramen like a lifeline.
“I miss bits of it. I miss helping people.” He agrees. “I don’t miss getting hunted. I don’t miss sleeping on street corners or in slums and wondering if I was actually going to wake up. I don’t miss the Other Guy constantly under my skin, itching to come out.”
Tony wonders whether he should ask his questions about the Other Guy, as Bruce refers to him, or whether it’s inappropriate. But he’s left an opening for it, and God knows when he might get the courage to ask again. “So you don’t feel him anymore?”
Bruce chuckles, and reaches for the glass of tap water he poured himself. “I always feel him. But he hadn’t been out in over a year before last week. It’s like he’s a really, really violent and destructive puppy, and the Battle for Manhattan was the best walk in the park ever.”
“With giant robot whales and an evil psychopathic demi-god.” Tony adds, trying to make Bruce smile and lose the tension building up in his body. “It’s gonna take something pretty special to top that, big guy.” It works; Bruce laughs and relaxes into the couch, neatly swirling a few strands of noodles around his fork. He manages to eat it without splashing little drops of soup everywhere, which is a skill Tony hasn’t quite acquired yet.
“I’m sure something new will turn up soon enough.” Bruce jokes.
Depressingly, he’s probably right.
Tony slurps up the last dregs of ramen broth, and finds himself surprisingly tired. He stifles a yawn, getting up to put his bowl in the sink. “Thanks for dinner, Bruce.” He is genuine in his gratitude; it’s been a long time since someone actually cooked for him. He can’t even remember when. He lives off of coffee and Pop-Tarts and take out. It’s fine most of the time, but the real deal is nice sometimes too.
“We should do this again sometime.” Bruce says. It could be innocent if it weren’t for the blush spreading across Bruce’s face. Interesting. Tony notes it away in his mental Bruce Banner file. Maybe the super obvious come on had been too much, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Bruce isn’t interested.
Tony hates these charity things normally. Pepper is ruthlessly efficient and a god send when it comes to whispering the names of important guests in his ear three seconds before they greet him enthusiastically. She deals with the small talk while he fields questions about donations and the Iron Man suits. But Pepper isn’t here tonight; she’s otherwise engaged across town, and Tony is alone.
Sure, the rest of the team is here, but Natasha and Clint tend to pair up for these kinds of things, and Tony has no intention of forcing Clint to face this without her support. The poor guy still struggles with his actions under Loki’s instruction, and some people find the mind control excuse a little too convenient. Steve is a natural born charmer and Thor loves any excuse for a celebration, so they both involve themselves with pleasure.
He’s amazed this many people bothered to show up at all to be honest. The marketing for the relief appeals have categorised Asgardian alien invasions as a natural disaster, but Tony’s not sure he’d be as comfortable swallowing it. Really, it’s SHIELD’s mess to clean up, not the general public’s, and he’s still expecting someone to turn around and label them public enemies, numbers one through six.
“I hear you’re up for sale.” A voice says conversationally in his ear, and he turns to see Bruce in a beautifully cut suit looking incredibly uncomfortable.
“You going to bid for me, Banner?” He Bruce didn’t respond immediately, nor move out of Tony’s immediate personal space. He can practically hear his heart beating in his ribcage.
“We both know I can’t afford you.” He says, but there’s the smallest touch of regret in his voice.
Tony let his fingers brush along Bruce’s neck, cleanly shaven for the first time in over a week, before letting his hand drop. Bruce holds his breath for longer than necessary before letting the air out in one large gust. “I don’t know, Banner. You look a million dollars in that suit.”
Bruce laughs, and takes a step back, moving to a more respectable distance to be seen in public. “Is that the best you’ve got?” He looks Tony up and down with no subtlety, his gaze pausing on his chest. Tony supposes it can’t be helped; he is very aware of how great he looks right now.
“Whatever. I’m going to be auctioned off for more than a million dollars anyway. You really are rocking that suit, though.” And he is, the crisp lines and tight fabric emphasising a physique usually hidden behind baggy shirts and slacks that practically fall off at the hips, they’re so loose.
“You look good too. You always look good.”
“They say God made me just to wear a tux.” He claims in all seriousness, and does a slow spin so that Bruce can admire him from all angles. Bruce’s eyes linger on the pale glowing under the buttons of his shirt, and he swallows. If he looks good enough to make Bruce do a double take, Tony knows he is definitely going for more than a million dollars. “You know, I could always loan you the money.”
Bruce blinks in surprise, tearing his eyes away from the hidden reactor, before he links the words back to their earlier joke. “Huh?”
“You get an evening with Tony Stark, the charity gets their money and I don’t have to spend a night with a creepy stranger. It’s a win—win situation, Bruce.”
“Assuming I want an evening with Tony Stark.” A week or two ago, Tony might have considered Bruce’s words to be serious, but now he knows that it’s all just a part of their carefully choreographed dance. “You’re not escaping from this. Let people actually bid properly. We have all the other nights.”
Tony’s eyes widen at the promise. “We do? All the other nights, huh?”
Bruce blushes horribly but doesn’t take the words back. This night is revealing more and more to Tony as the minutes tick by. “We should mingle or whatever.” Bruce says hopelessly, and slips off into the crowd without another word. Tony knows he’s not mingling—Bruce didn’t much fancy this many strangers all in one place—and Tony guesses he’s probably hiding in a bathroom or something.
He’s expected to mingle though. His laugh sounds more and more forced as the evening gets later but he perseveres for the sake of charity. If his stories can guilt trip a few Wall Street bosses to drop a couple of extra million, it’ll be worth it. That doesn’t stop him hating every second of it.
“So how much did you go for?” Bruce asks later that evening. Tony jumps, because Banner apparently enjoys sneaking up behind him with no warning.
“Uh. $4.8 million.” He says, and wow yeah, that’s kind of embarrassing. “It’s a weekend with Tony Stark now, apparently, although no-one thought to inform me of this. I might fire Pepper.”
“You wouldn’t survive three days without Pepper.” Bruce says flatly. He’s right, but Tony scowls at him anyway. “Well, I think it’s very generous of you, Tony. Who won?”
“I don’t know. Some rich old fart wanting advice about his stock portfolio, I imagine.”
“Well, I hope Pepper told them that sex isn’t included.” He adds casually.
Tony smirks. All of Bruce’s attempts to provoke a reaction are so obvious, it’s hardly any effort to rise above them. “This booty is extra.” He says seriously, and mentally punches the air when Bruce looks surprised. Point scored. “What?”
“Extra? Not out of the question entirely, but extra?”
“I thought you were meant to be Mr. Saves Sick Orphans and Dying Old Ladies. You’re telling me you wouldn’t suck a dick for charity?” He’s like, 80% joking, but he wants to see Bruce’s reaction. This is too much fun.
He takes a step closer to Tony, taps a finger against the concealed arc reactor and leans in to whisper in his ear. “Who’s to say I haven’t already?”
Tony’s mouth falls open, and Bruce acts totally innocent. “What? I… What? You can’t just walk away after—Banner!” But Bruce continues walking towards the bar where Steve and Thor are enjoying a drink, and doesn’t even look over his shoulder. Points lost. So many points lost.
This man was going to be the death of him.