Title: A Hulk-shaped Aegis
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Era: post-movie, after “Smashed Heart” -fic.
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man) (, Nick Fury, Thor)
Summary: In the aftermath of almost killing Tony, Bruce (and the Hulk) need to re-think their game plan. Tony does not appreciate this.
Complete. Part of the “Turquoise” –series.
Warnings: Hints of pre-slash, implied severe injuries, violence & villain-bashing language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Avengers, their characters and everything else belong to Marvel. The movie versions belong to Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston… in short: everyone but me. This is pure fiction, created to entertain likeminded fans, no profit made.
Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)
Feedback: Much appreciated and looked forward to. Good concrit is love.
About A Hulk-shaped Aegis: Third time’s the charm, and this being the third (at least chronologically third for the time being) part in the series, it’s also time to go ahead with some of the main themes that shall follow through the series – mainly, Bruce/Tony relationship.
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
A Hulk-shaped Aegis
Part of the Turquoise -series, following “Smashed Heart” (to keep up with the plot, you might want to read at least the aforementioned story first).
Manhattan, New York, NY, USA
“Come on, Rogers!”
There was an actual whine in Tony’s voice which meant he was giving his latest obsession another go; convincing Steve Rogers that he was ready to get back out there and fight alongside the Avengers.
Bruce strategically shifted his glasses, focusing on the screen in front of him when first Steve, then Tony, game barging into the room. Natasha, who was studying some classified S.H.I.E.L.D. files while sitting on the couch, looked up at them and arched a fine eyebrow. Clint was off somewhere, perhaps the attic, but it was likely he could hear Tony’s voice all the way up there. Thor, for the time being, had returned home to Asgard.
“We’ve been over this, Stark,” Steve replied yet again. “When you’re ready –”
“Who decides when I’m ready? Fury told me to stop bitching at him, that it’s your call as our leader, so I’m turning to you. I’m here, I’m asking you. I’m fine, good as ever, the doctors did an amazing job, I could pin a bill of good health on your forehead if it helps and there’s barely a scar. Do you want me to show you?”
“You’re like a child throwing a tantrum,” Natasha commented as Tony stopped talking in order to breathe.
“I’m being treated like a child!” Tony almost stomped his foot, which shouldn’t have been at all adorable from a man his age who went around flying in a high-tech metal suit, saving the world, and who was considered one of the most intelligent men on the planet. It made Bruce smile, though, even if he tried not to look.
“Your… tantrum won’t help in the matter,” Steve said, hesitating slightly. “You haven’t agreed to train with the rest of the team.”
Tony froze at that.
Bruce looked up, abandoning the screen, trusting J.A.R.V.I.S. to save it for him. It wasn’t that he was expecting a reply, because there wouldn’t be one, but he found watching Tony more informative; his body language changing in an instant, offering an answer his lips refused to grant.
“I’ve always been better at jumping into the thick of things,” Tony finally recovered.
“Well, not this time,” Steve put his foot down. “I want to know I will be able to trust you, and not have to have one of us drag you off the battlefield because your body can’t take it.”
“My body is encased in armor!” Tony snapped. “Even if I died inside it, you couldn’t tell the difference.”
That was the wrong thing to say. Steve’s face froze and Bruce took a steadying breath; he had a brief re-visit of the vision of Iron Man lying at his feet, unmoving, lights out…
“I think we all know the answer to that,” Steve managed a reply and walked stiffly out of the room, probably to go out for another run. He had been doing plenty of that while Tony was still recovering.
Bruce flexed his fingers, minutely aware of doing it. His skin itched, not with an actual memory since he hadn’t exactly been there when Tony was injured – the other guy, the Hulk, had been the one who smashed his chest in – but he had watched the footage so many times it felt like he could recall the exact feeling of titanium alloy giving in beneath the strength of his fists, the crunch of metal and bones…
“Banner,” Tony’s voice jerked him out of it, making him look at the man standing there a bit awkwardly.
“Don’t say things like that,” was Bruce’s only reply before he walked out. Meditation might help, but not indefinitely.
It was some weeks later when Steve finally relented and let Iron Man back on board. By that time they had all openly expected Tony to fly out solo – and he had, to test the latest calibrations to his new armor since the old one had been all but scraps by the time he was fit enough to work on it.
Tony himself knew that it was a different matter to let him join them for a mission, especially when he had managed to weasel his way out of any team practice at the Mansion, but the situation called for Iron Man’s help so there was no denying him passage –especially when he could just show up anyway if he wasn’t officially allowed to join, because he didn’t need a Quinjet to take him from one place to another. He preferred flying by himself because it was faster and far cooler.
The action took place in a remote town that used to be a mining community. It was refreshing to get out of New York to do their thing; while there would be damages, it might be more bearable, and there were fewer people around. After all, the place was all but deserted, the mine long since closed, but some criminal group had started their own operation there and when it started to smell like weapons of potential mass destruction, S.H.I.E.L.D. wanted it shut down. Because they had a few super-powered thugs along for the ride, the Avengers were the safest call to put a lid on their operation.
Iron Man was the first to touch down, although Captain America’s clipped tones kept him company, telling him to wait, to stay out of sight, to sound out and recon until the others got there. Right. “Not really my style, Cap,” Tony replied, scanning the area and waiting for J.A.R.V.I.S. to bring up detailed info on the landscape and figure out what these clowns had in store for them.
“You stay put, Stark,” Steve demanded.
Tony tuned him out. He was very good at that. Practice makes perfect and all that jazz; if Rogers just expected him to stand there, gleaming in the sun and painting a target on himself, he could forget it. While his armor could take a direct hit from anything these people decided to shoot him with, he had never been a fan of playing possum, and he was still waiting on some new materials to arrive in order to make a back-up suit so he didn’t want to scratch this one on its maiden voyage.
“Tony, be smart,” Banner’s voice came up.
“I’ll leave some of them for you,” Tony promised. The Heads Up Display was picking up some activity, coming towards him from between the buildings, and he wasn’t going to stand here with his hands in his metaphorical pockets. “J.A.R.V.I.S., let’s test that new targeting system,” he turned down the comm and shifted to offensive mode.
“Of course, sir. It would be a shame for all your hard work to go untested.”
“Damn right,” Tony muttered, watching the targeting system coming to life. He would take these goons down, maybe figure out what they were doing down in the mines and wrap this up by the time the others decided to show up. Well, they would be on location in 6.3 minutes if his radar was correct, and of course it was.
“Sir, incoming, nine o’clock.”
Tony barely moved to look before something hit him, hard, making him land on one knee. He hissed, hearing paint scraped off the base material. “Where did that come from? Show me.”
It was clever, actually; they had mounted a couple big cannons directly into the mountain wall, hiding them from above and below, but once operational, Tony could locate them easily. He lifted an arm to send them a gift in return which would blow their socks off, but before he could, J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up again:
“Approaching at 6 o’clock.”
Tony turned to look, and he saw armed men this time, dodging from cover to cover, getting closer, carrying rather impressively sized guns. He knew a few people who might like a closer look at those – mainly Fury, who had said he wanted some samples from the scene before Iron Man blew it to smithereens. Where had Fury gotten the impression an explosion was imminent? Of course Tony wasn’t known to possess finesse when around a stash of illegal weaponry, especially if some of it had his name on the side, and that still happened on regular basis…
He aimed, ready to fire when the cannons on the side let loose again; one burst of ammo hit the ground next to his feet while the other hit him in the side, disrupting his attempts to slow the approaching enemies down. He flew sideways across the air – the suit threatening to appear very stiff and clunky although he had put some serious learning hours into handling it – and pushed himself up with a slightly awkward roll on the ground.
The targeting system was loading, but if these people thought that keeping him busy was going to keep him from firing… Well, it was working so far, but Tony could multi-task, and he had the smartest AI in the world working alongside him, so why wasn’t he getting any hits in?
“J., fix on that cannon tower, now,” Tony said, lifting the arm, knowing J.A.R.V.I.S. would handle the rest. A miniature-missile took flight a moment later, small in size but creating an impact that threw pebbles half a mile from ground zero.
“May I suggest you give the advancing enemy a piece of your mind, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked politely after confirming that the cannons set into the mountain face had been destroyed.
“On it,” Tony quipped back, locating enemies as he said it, pinpointing their locations. He could take half of them out in one strike and have more room to maneuver after –
A warning appeared on the HUD and ammo from a rocket launcher sped towards him. He raised a hand to deflect it with a repulsor blast, bits and pieces flying at him in the aftermath of the explosion, although it felt like nothing more than dust.
“Okay, these guys are pissing me off,” he gritted his teeth. This was taking too long for his liking. He took to the air to gain a better vantage point and to keep moving so that they wouldn’t hit him so easily – which was when something considerably bigger was launched at him from one of the mine entrances.
“Heat-seeking missiles,” J.A.R.V.I.S. told him needlessly as the information was already in front of his eyes on the display.
Tony had no love for them and he took off, flying higher, weaving back and forth, then went lower between the houses in order to have the missiles hit something other than himself. He managed to make a sharp turn and make one of the two hit a building, blowing up half of the structure upon impact. One remained chasing him and he had almost found a suitable building to fly through where he could deploy flares and get rid of it when he flew into a net.
It was almost as bad as flying into a wall, only the wall would break on impact and the net simply gave way and ripped from where it had been fixed to the walls, jarring him into an unexpected halt then throwing him down in an ungraceful mess, and at the last minute he remembered the missile while he was crashing to the ground, the suit not blocking all of the impact and most certainly not being enough to protect him from the impending blast.
Tony braced himself, counting fractions of a second that he had left to live. Somehow he wasn’t surprised about it ending like this, although he wasn’t satisfied with it.
The ground shook before he was incinerated. A shadow landed on top of him and there was a sound of the explosion he had been anticipating, coming in a muffled blast, then nothing but intense heat. He opened his eyes, the HUD slowly catching up after the crash, and he found something big and green looming above him.
“Thanks,” he told the Hulk.
Hulk turned, then growled at him, almost sending him rolling again with the mere force of his lungs. “Stupid,” he grunted then, tapping one finger against his shoulder, sending the suit sprawling to the ground from where he hadn’t gotten up yet, disoriented and tangled in the net.
Why had there been a net? Who put a net between two buildings where superheroes might be flying in their suits?
Ah, that’s right…
These people were really, really starting to piss him off.
“These guys were waiting for us,” Tony called into the comm.
“I don’t care if Santa himself was on the welcome committee,” Barton replied. “That face-plant you just did was awesome. Definitely going on YouTube.” It was criminal how much Barton had come out of his S.H.I.E.L.D.-colored shell while working with them, actually cracking jokes when the situation called for it.
“Can we focus?” Rogers’ irritated voice interrupted the gleeful reminiscence of Iron Man’s recent plight. “Stark, I told you to wait.”
“And I did, for a few seconds,” Tony defended himself. “Did you see them shooting at me? I’m sure you would have preferred me to just stand there and take it like a man, but…” He turned the comm off as he groaned in pain, trying to get back to his feet.
Hulk, still standing above him, shoved him down. “Stupid,” he repeated. “Not safe for Shellhead.”
Tony felt the urge to flip up the faceplate and roll his eyes at him. “I’m fine. Stop pushing me, big guy.”
“Stay down,” the green monster ordered.
“You know, I like sunbathing as much as the next guy, but it’s a bit awkward in the suit. I’m getting up now, if you don’t mind.”
Hulk didn’t seem convinced; the next time Tony had almost managed to get up, untangling himself from the net, a green arm looped around him, picking him up and tucking him close to the huge body like someone would carry a big toy or a piece of lumber.
“Hey!” Tony protested. “Put me down. I’m fine, I can still fly, you don’t need to help me with that.”
“Hulk protect,” the Hulk growled.
He could hear Barton howling with laughter, even without the comm.
“Hulk?” he heard Rogers shout, looking uncertain. “We still have things to finish. Bad guys.”
“Hulk protect Shellhead. Shellhead not safe,” was the only reply he got and while Tony wholeheartedly tried to wriggle free, he was carried back out towards the Quinjet that had been parked a safe distance from the action.
The rest of the team was left to deal with the enemy on their own.
It may have been amusing once, Tony could admit as much, even though he didn’t appreciate the amount of amusement some of his teammates – cough Barton cough – had on his expense. Reasoning with the Hulk was, however, tedious at times, and Tony could admit his landing after hitting the net must have looked pretty horrific because it had felt like it too. Plus he would have most likely died without the Hulk taking the missile hit for him.
However, the next time they faced off against some random band of villains that had decided to rob the biggest bank in New York, the situation really wasn’t that bad although they had needed the Hulk to get them through the armored vehicle – Tony may have been a little jealous about that and was going to take it apart later to investigate its design.
After the armored vehicle had been opened like a sardine can by those huge green paws, the Hulk made it his business to stand between Iron Man and any bit of action there was left.
There was no way it was a coincidence.
Definitely not when it happened for a third time, and Tony was only putting on his armor when the big guy made an appearance, outright telling him not to come – because it wasn’t safe. Maybe Banner had looked a bit worried because apparently the newest threat to the city’s safety was provided by some robots with sharp lasers and they might just be able to cut through the armor, but Tony had no intentions of being hit by anything he couldn’t handle. And even if he was, he would deal with it.
“Back off,” he told the Hulk. “We’re all going out on this mission.”
“Hulk protect,” the green giant insisted, looming before him, swatting away the last robotic arms that were retracting from Tony’s body now that the Iron Man armor was finally on him.
“You can protect me out there, but you have to let me do my part!” Tony snapped at him, knowing he should not piss the Hulk off but Tony was getting more and more irritated when this shit started happening before they were even out the door. “We are a team. I’m part of the team. Iron Man – Shellhead – needs to be out there and blow shit up. Okay?” He snapped the faceplate shut, ordered J.A.R.V.I.S. to open the roof – yeah, so he had made some re-designs to the house to allow him to leave it in style since the suit wasn’t really made for an idle stroll in the park and he really messed up the carpets – and took off.
He was dimly aware of the Hulk climbing out after him and dashing across the garden in order to follow him to the action, and this was going to be just another one of those stunts that Fury would fume at them about, but he couldn’t help it, and as long as they all got to the scene safely, it was all good, right?
Today their ‘commute’ was only a few blocks, something he trusted the Hulk to make without much incident, and the Captain was already there with Hawkeye and Black Widow, avoiding laser beams and searching for weak spots.
Tony hovered in the air, mapping out the patterns of attack, then took a few good shots, not stopping their adversaries but slowing them down. He was just aiming for the money shot, pretty certain he could take one of them out with one precise hit, when something collided into him from behind. A laser beam from one of the robots grazed by him as he fell, dragged down by the weight of something. He looked down, trying to tug himself free, only to see the Hulk beneath him, hanging onto one of his boots and not letting go – not even when they hit the ground.
He almost screamed with frustration, keeping the thrusters on enough to hover like a helium balloon in a child’s grasp, the Hulk’s weight was keeping him grounded for now. “Come on, I’m fine. You can let go.”
“No flying,” Hulk informed him. “Not safe.”
“I was perfectly safe before you messed up my aim.”
A firm tug almost sent him face-first into the asphalt until strong hands grabbed him and set him down. J.A.R.V.I.S. automatically shut down the thrusters and Tony focused on staying upright while the Hulk made it his business to hover above him like a shield.
“I’m safe! The team needs me,” Tony tried negotiating, wondering if it would be too humiliating to just try to crawl away, but he wouldn’t risk being picked up and placed under Hulk’s arm again – once had been enough for him.
“Hey,” Barton dropped by, fixing one of his arrows, “we could use you,” he told Tony.
“Tell him that,” Tony bit back.
Barton looked at the Hulk, eyes and face serious for once. “Come on, big guy, we need Shellhead to shut down the robots. He can’t do that from the ground. He needs to fly.”
The Hulk looked unhappy, still leaning over him, keeping the armor firmly in place.
Tony had entertained the idea of shooting him, just to get away, but after what had happened during their practice he knew not to cross that line; he wouldn’t hurt Hulk, or Banner, but they all had a rather ugly mental bruise surrounding that incident, and it hadn’t faded yet. He was getting the impression he was actually coping with it pretty well, compared to the other involved parties.
Rogers approached them as well, adding his voice to the chorus, which finally made the Hulk release him and Iron Man was allowed to return to the sky and get his shot in. The others had battered the robots nicely, and one of Barton’s arrows had actually taken one of them down, but Iron Man’s weapons were ideal to deal with this problem so Tony was happy to deliver.
One thing he didn’t count on was the resulting blast – some kind of self-destruct mechanism activated by the final attack – and when he dispatched the final three robots in one beautiful shot, the targeting system working like a dream, the blast sent him flying uncontrollably through the air, crushing three cars and one bus stop on the street below when he landed.
A job well done, although lacking a little in finish.
More than a little, it seemed, once they got back to the Mansion; the entire team took the Quinjet, even the Hulk, who kept growling and shifting restlessly until his skin began to ripple and amazingly enough, Banner started to emerge. It was a rare treat for sure, especially since he was awake when Steve helped him off the Quinjet and inside.
Tony headed to the dismantling unit, eager to get out of the suit which would need some serious repairs thanks to that last plunge to the ground. He really needed to work on emergency landings, but he wasn’t going to install air bags even though J.A.R.V.I.S. had already drawn him some ideas for those in case he felt like playing with the idea.
From the corner of his eye he saw Banner lift his head, then suddenly the man was there, standing in front of him, eyes stormy. He grabbed at Tony’s chest, catching the material he wore beneath the armor. “That was your idea of safety? What the hell is wrong with you?!” Banner looked like he wanted to shake him, and keep going, but the robotic arms taking off the suit kept moving around, still working, and he had to take a step back to avoid being hit. He stood there, seething and breathing hard which was unlike him and usually resulted in a transformation. Plus, he seemed to have a fairly good idea of what Tony had been up to on the battlefield, which was new as well.
“Things would have gone a lot smoother if the big guy hadn’t tried to sit on top of me again like some mother hen!” Tony argued.
“And when he let you do your thing, you ended up crashing down anyway!” Banner snapped back, voice rising.
The mechanical arms were finally done with the suit and Tony stepped forward. “What’s with that anyway? I need to be able to do my part, I can’t have him blocking and distracting me at every turn; it takes out two of our five current players, and it’s a bit much. Even Rogers thinks that. Right?”
Steve was clearly trying to stay out of it but he was still in the room so he had probably decided to see this out. “Well, it is slowing us down…”
“‘Slowing’ is a polite term for ‘fucking up the teamwork’,” Tony corrected. “We’ve been lucky our enemies haven’t caught on to our disadvantage, because that’s what this is.”
“If you actually acted like you were trying to stay alive,” Banner started.
“I am! A few incidents don’t change that.”
“Then how come I have to keep saving your ass?”
“Oh, so it’s ‘you’ now, and not the ‘other guy’?”
Banner grit his teeth. Clearly that hit a nerve. He was so careful of distancing himself from the Hulk that this kind of slip was out-of-character. “We both want you to be safe. Need you to be safe.”
Tony wondered how he hadn’t seen that, and how he hadn’t connected the dots before. “Just because you nearly killed me doesn’t make you responsible for protecting me at every turn.”
“Someone needs to do it since you’re clearly not capable.”
“You know you sound like Pepper, right?”
“You know that’s the root of the problem, right?” They stared at each other heatedly for a moment until Banner straightened a bit. “See me in the infirmary. I want to make sure you’re not injured from that fall,” he finally said.
It wasn’t a real infirmary, of course, but ‘over-sized medicine cabinet’ didn’t describe the room either with all of its fancy medical toys, so infirmary it was, and Banner was the closest thing they had to a resident doctor.
“Will you put some clothes on for that, doc?” Tony shot back by way of reply.
Banner didn’t even blush, stalking off completely naked since his torn pants hadn’t clung to his body once he transformed back to his human form.
Tony watched him go, sighing, then decided he had better follow him and maybe try and find some way out of this mess they were in because he didn’t want to fight with Banner, far from it. Of all the Avengers, Banner was his soulmate and he wasn’t about to lose that.
He wandered down slowly, by which time Banner had indeed found himself some clothes to wear and was nervously shifting items around the tables and trays although they didn’t need any kind of sorting.
“Please sit down,” he asked when Tony entered.
Hopping up on an examination table, Tony regarded the man, then lifted a hand when Banner stepped closer and held him back with a gentle hold on his shoulder. “Bruce,” he said in a lower tone, the earlier venom gone. “You know it wasn’t your fault, right?”
“So I’ve been told,” Banner replied, a small shrug shifting Tony’s hand. “But it was me – the other guy – who did the damage, no matter the provocation, so…”
“But you do see this ridiculousness has to stop?” Tony pressed. “I can’t focus out there, not when I have to fear the Hulk tackling me out of the air at every moment. I appreciate the gesture, believe me, but it’s getting in the way of the team.” Not that he had really cared about the team that much before, but it was a good excuse.
“Maybe if you tried to keep yourself out of the line of fire sometimes,” Banner offered in return.
“I could try to do that,” Tony accepted the token of peace.
Banner nodded, then looked him in the eye. “You know that he doesn’t listen. I can tell him, but it doesn’t mean he’ll stop.”
“You got him on this protective gig in the first place,” Tony reminded him.
“In a way… But he knew he had hurt you, and he didn’t like it. We both agreed on protecting you…”
Tony was touched by that, even though he generally loathed any kind of bodyguard hindering his life, but he also knew that rationally, he couldn’t stop the Hulk from being his shield in the heat of battle – nor did he want to. After all, in their first fight together, against the Chitauri… Tony wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the green menace that had been driving him crazy lately.
“We’ll figure it out,” he told Banner. “And it’s nice to hear you guys are on talking terms.”
“That’s a strong word for it,” Banner divulged, but a small smile tugged his lips. Tony hadn’t even noticed how long it had been since he had seen one of those; maybe when they constructed the new arc reactor together while Tony was still bed-bound.
“Will you tell the other guy to settle down?” Tony asked then, choosing his words carefully, knowing he didn’t want to break this small truce they had going on.
“I can ask all I want, but he’s most likely not going to give me an answer,” Banner admitted. “But… he’ll see it, eventually.” He looked at Tony again, for a long time, leaning a bit closer until their foreheads were touching. It was unlike him to be so close, to seek so much physical contact, but there it was, and Tony wasn’t about to push him away. “We just want to keep you safe…” Banner murmured softly, barely above a whisper.
“I know,” Tony replied, and decided he might just have to choose his battles – and one with the Hulk wasn’t worth it. Even if it was impairing his ability to operate. But it was such a small price to pay for his friendship with Bruce Banner.
Author’s notes: I’m not sure if anyone else is sensing Bruce/Tony in the air, but it is there, getting closer… We’ll be addressing that more closely in the next part of the series.