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Del Rion [userpic]

Handling Pointy Things; Chapter 5: Strutting

Title: Handling Pointy Things
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man (MCU)
Era: Post-Avengers movie, after “Blue Glow” fic.
Genre: Drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Jane Foster, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S., Darcy Lewis, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Thor, Tony Stark (Iron Man)
Pairings: Bruce/Tony, Happy/Pepper, Jane/Thor (, Clint/Natasha, implied past Pepper/Tony)
Summary: It starts with a dream and ends with something that resembles strutting more than tiptoeing; in other words, Bruce has a new-found obsession with Tony, Tony finds that endearing and wants to take it further while everyone else – including Bruce – seems to think it might actually be a very bad idea.
Work in progress. Part of the “Turquoise” –series.
Warnings: Slash (m/m relationship) and some sexual content, past and current het (f/m), superheroes vs. villains violence, language.



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Chapter 5: Strutting



Freeze-dried strawberry flakes were on the day’s menu when Bruce stepped into Tony’s workshop at the Avengers Mansion. He looked around the space as his hand dug into the bag of treats. The workshop was different from most of the labs because it was Tony’s place to play solo. He invited Bruce there often enough, but this was Iron Man’s lair, so to speak, much like his workshop at his Malibu home. Whenever Tony worked on weapons and gear for the other Avengers, he tended to use the other labs, although he had some very special machinery here.

“Hey,” Tony poked his head up from where he was fixing some hip part of the armor. “Strawberries?” he asked, pointing the diagnostic panel in the general direction of the table beside Bruce.

“Already helped myself,” Bruce admitted but took another scoop of the dried berries before stepping closer to Tony’s workstation. “Is there a problem?”

“Just upgrading a little,” Tony replied, tapping the panel and then allowed J.A.R.V.I.S. to work out the calculations and fabrication of necessary components that he couldn’t do himself. “Rhodey’s bringing in his suit later, I think. He keeps complaining I don’t give him the best stuff, which is kind of unfair, and he says the armor is drafty. How is that even possible? If it was drafty, he would most likely suffocate or at least get a nosebleed while flying,” he went on muttering, putting his tools away.

“Maybe the air-conditioning is one notch too high,” Bruce suggested.

Tony snorted with laughter. “You dare call it air-conditioning? I’ll show you air-conditioning.”

“You don’t have air-conditioning in your high-tech suit of armor?” Bruce challenged.

“I don’t call it ‘air-conditioning’. God!” Tony threw up his hands dramatically – then muttered to have J.A.R.V.I.S. check the air-circulation readings in Rhodey’s War Machine armor.

Bruce returned to take a few more strawberry flakes while Tony sat down to complete his day’s project. Before he noticed the bag was empty and he peered into it to make sure there were no more flakes left among the red dust.

“Did you eat it all?” Tony asked.

Bruce looked away from the truly empty bag. “Yeah. Did you want some?”

“Nah,” Tony whirled back to his screens. “You should eat real food if you’re hungry. I’ve been told to do that.”

“Indeed, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. chorused.

“I was waiting for you to finish,” Bruce replied. “I just wrapped up analyzing the biochemical the bank-robbers used last week to melt that vault wall and came to see if you were done.”

“Why do they never bug you about eating?” Tony wondered out loud.

“If I’m hungry and cranky, no one wants to bug me about anything,” Bruce noted. “The perks of being able to turn into an enormous green rage monster.”

Tony snapped his fingers, the screens going blank. “Are you cranky?” he asked, clearly finished now as he got up and sauntered over in a way that was meant to catch Bruce’s attention – well, anyone’s attention, but Bruce was the only one in the room if you didn’t count the AI that had probably seen it all and more.

Bruce gave him a smile, not failing to drop his eyes along Tony’s body before lifting them again. “Not particularly, but I might be if you don’t get me something nice to eat soon.”

“I’m not your maid,” Tony narrowed his eyes, made a vague gesture with his hand then stopped in front of him.

“No, but it is your turn to choose where we’re going to order out,” Bruce went on with his earlier tone, then gave in and slid one hand across Tony’s side, fingers dipping into the curve of his back.

Tony grinned, pleased, thinking he had lured him in. Well, when was Tony ever wrong about most things? “Any requests?” he returned Bruce’s attention back to the promise of food.

“Something edible. No kebabs,” he added. “Maybe dessert, too.”

“I wonder if the other guy has a sweet tooth as well,” Tony mused.

“He eats anything he thinks is edible – regardless of its nutritional value or digestive attributes,” Bruce replied, knowing only too well… It was amazing he hadn’t ever woken up with a license plate stuck between his teeth like some Florida alligator.

“We should educate him,” Tony decided then leaned in to give him a kiss. “You taste of strawberries,” he mused afterwards, hovering a mere inch from Bruce’s face.

Bruce licked his lips, accidentally touching Tony’s in the process that seemed to ignite a spark between them and he tugged the other man closer, allowing Tony to explore before following his tongue back to the engineer’s mouth. Tony, as usual, had no objections about that and Bruce really had to ask him how he was breathing while they kissed because it was usually Bruce who pulled back for air.

“Maybe Indian food?” he suggested, gearing his brain back towards food. “From that place we like.” They had found a fairly authentic restaurant that made him sometimes miss the food from when he had been running from the government. He preferred this, though, being able to enjoy his meal in peace and not look over his shoulder between mouthfuls.

Tony led the way upstairs and called in an order after asking J.A.R.V.I.S. who was present; Thor was once again visiting Jane Foster after a quick trip home to Asgard but everyone else was spread out within the grounds.

While they waited for the food they sat down at the big living room table surrounded by couches and chairs, which was the team’s favorite place to gather. Well, mostly they gathered for dinner and not much else although there had been a few movie-nights and some attempts at board games to grow the team spirit. It was clear, though, that anything that could be made into a contest could also be turned into an argument or a fight.

They sat in silence, Tony playing with his phone for a moment before his foot slid over to tap Bruce’s own. It brought a smile to the scientist’s lips and he pushed back, making Tony’s mouth twitch as well. They went at it until there was the sound of the food delivery arriving. They didn’t even have time to get up from the couch, much less reach the door, before Steve had intercepted the food and entered the living room with the heavenly smelling bags in tow. It didn’t take long before Clint and Natasha showed up as well; whenever there was food, the Avengers didn’t need a call to assemble.

Everyone dug in and focused on comparing different spices and textures. As long as there was plenty of food to go around, Bruce had noticed, there was no room for argument or disagreements; everyone could eat what they wanted, as much as they wanted, and someone – possibly Tony – paid the bill without a hitch.

Bruce looked at the man who had moved to sit right beside him when the others arrived. They never talked about it, the expenses of having the Avengers around, but someone was paying the bills and simply re-naming the Stark Mansion into Avengers Mansion didn’t mean S.H.I.E.L.D. felt inclined to meddle with the living costs. Tony had mentioned something about a trust fund in his mother’s name that took care of the place, but that didn’t mean it covered all expenses.

As much as people thought Tony was self-obsessed and selfish, Bruce had begun to see the man underneath and wished this experience with the Avengers wouldn’t push him even further from people.

He hoped the same for their blossoming relationship, the reason for the success of which still eluded him.

“So,” Clint started after they had all had their fill mostly. Steve, of course, was filling his plate for the third time, his metabolism demanding more food than the rest of them could imagine consuming – especially when Thor’s godly appetite was elsewhere.

“What?” Tony replied. It was always Tony, responding to anyone’s dare or half-finished thought.

“When are you two coming out of the closet?” Clint went on.

Bruce, who had been sipping from his bottle of water, snorted said water up his nose in an attempt not to spit it all over the table.

Tony looked at him before regarding Clint. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“I thought Tony Stark would actually have the balls to be honest about suddenly batting for the other team instead of skulking around in the shadows.”

Bruce coughed and lifted his face long enough to see Natasha give the archer a pointed look but she said nothing – nor did she seemed surprised, not even a little. Was she ever surprised by anything – and if she was, would she show it?

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Tony snapped at Clint.

Bruce took a paper-towel from the table and wiped his face, blowing his nose quickly, trying to process the sudden edge of hostility in Tony’s voice.

“What are you talking about?” Steve asked, sounding confused.

“Come on, Cap! Don’t say you haven’t seen them give each other those extended team hugs none of us ever get included in, or those long looks – or that you haven’t spotted them smooching in some corner of the mansion.” Clint looked victorious at every note. Clearly he had spotted it all.

“Didn’t take you for a stalker,” Tony noted dryly, “but it fits. Is that why S.H.I.E.L.D. originally hired you? You’re just their type.”

“That’s weak even for you,” Clint shot back, sending a balled up paper napkin flying towards him.

Tony caught it before it hit his face. “Yeah? You think? I’ll show you weak –”

“Enough,” Bruce and Steve said at the same time, then looked at each other. “Don’t get into a fight over this,” Bruce went on at Steve’s nod to let him continue.

Tony leaned back against the couch, tossing the ball of paper to the table with a look of distaste. “I don’t care what he thinks,” he muttered.

“But you think I do?” Bruce prodded.

Tony looked at him from the corner of his eye. This protective streak wasn’t new, but it was sharper now that they were romantically involved. Maybe Tony just didn’t want to fuck this up, so soon after Pepper, feeling like he had to protect their relationship at all costs. Or maybe he thought Bruce would embrace other people’s doubts and call it off.

“Bruce,” Natasha said when Tony didn’t speak up. “Are you sure this is a good idea? Of all the people in the world, Stark might not be the ideal partner to start an affair with.”

Tony snorted at that. “That makes so much sense! Bruce thinks I should be protected from him, and the rest of you think he should be protected from me.” He shuffled down even further on the couch like a sulking child.

Steve cleared his throat while Bruce was still trying to find an answer that would satiate both his disgruntled lover and his teammates. “So you are… involved?”

“Yes,” Bruce said. That was the easy part. He had had no illusions the others wouldn’t have noticed eventually.

“Well…” Steve seemed to turn it over in his head, the concept clearly giving him some trouble. “Is it going to affect the team?”

“No,” Bruce said as Tony sat up, argument almost flying from his lips as his body tensed. Bruce lay a hand on his thigh, willing him to stay quiet a moment longer; Tony had a way of getting Steve all wound up and taking up a hostile stance when it wasn’t necessary. “It is between the two of us,” Bruce went on, his fingers drawn tight on Tony’s cloth-covered skin. “I don’t see how it will make things different out there.”

“Okay,” Steve nodded. “Good. Because if it doesn’t… then it won’t matter to me.” He looked at the two of them, still teetering on the edge of some revelation. “Congratulations?” he offered then.

“We’re not getting married,” Tony managed before Bruce could will him into not replying. “Times have changed since you last dipped your toes in the dating pool.”

“Yes,” Steve replied, voice strained with sudden anger and perhaps just a little bit of shame. “Changed for the better, I hope,” he finished and stood up, leaving the room.

“That was smooth,” Bruce noted. “You could be civil with him, just for once.”

“I don’t need his approval or permission on how to live my life – or with whom,” Tony announced, then looked at Clint and Natasha. “That includes you.”

Natasha nodded crisply, got up and took a box of dessert with her as she left.

Clint remained perched on his seat; it seemed he felt more comfortable in that position if sitting down was optional.

“Is there something else you wanted to say?” Tony asked him, in full-on attack-mode.

Clint shrugged, the mask in place that didn’t show anything at all. “I don’t have a problem with the two of you hooking up,” he finally said.

“Funny; I kind of didn’t get that feeling from what you were just saying,” Tony replied.

“I just think it’s bullshit you’re hiding it – especially here.” Then he got up and disappeared down the same way Natasha had gone. Bruce briefly wondered if the two of them were going to split the box of dessert like the spoils of war.

Tony sat in silence; Bruce could almost hear him think.

“Let’s have dessert,” he suggested, pulling one of the remaining untouched boxes closer.

The other man let out a breath that was almost like a sigh and twisted around to get a better look at the treats. A little sugar intake never hurt things and Bruce would rather not hash out what had just happened: it could wait until later.

“Do you think he gets off watching us?” Tony mused after a while, clearly unable to let it go. He had his mouth full of rice pudding as he spoke.

Bruce was glad he wasn’t drinking this time. “Clint?” he asked, astonished that Tony’s brain could go there, but then, it was Tony…

“Fucking Barton…” Tony muttered darkly, chewing.

“You know he’s always watching,” Bruce tried to brush it off and not think about it. He tried not to pay attention to being watched here, telling himself he was safe and didn’t need to be paranoid or ready to take off at the first sign of trouble. Thinking of Clint watching them in moments that were supposed to be private was a bit unsettling. “I’m sure he’s not doing it on purpose,” he decided then but didn’t quite believe it himself.

The look Tony gave him suggested he didn’t buy it either.

“He had a point, though,” Bruce went on. “Should we be hiding, especially in our own home?” If the Avengers Mansion could be called ‘home’, but why not? It was as close to one as he would get anytime soon, he suspected.

Tony reached for a pastry dumpling and popped it into his mouth as he regarded Bruce. “You want to bring it out to the open?”

Bruce shrugged but knew that wasn’t an actual answer. Just like you couldn’t make scientific discoveries by pussyfooting around the possibility of an explosion or a meltdown, he couldn’t expect for them to move anywhere if he refused to give Tony the variables. “We’ve been at this for a while… We’re both still alive,” he observed. Tony made a face, as if he didn’t appreciate Bruce’s attempt to joke in this matter. “It’s been going well, and when we’re around the team, I don’t see why we can’t just relax.”

“Okay,” Tony replied, not even thinking it over or talking back to him.

“Okay?”

“I was never a discreet person when it came to this.”

“We are not having sex in public,” Bruce rolled his eyes; it didn’t shock him Tony would try to joke his way out of actually responding with insight.

“In order to have sex in public I think we would have to have sex in the first place,” Tony replied.

Bruce reached for more dessert. Maybe women had the right idea about chocolate intake; he might have to look into that.

Tony pursed his lips but let it go for now.

Above them, J.A.R.V.I.S. let out a sound that was entirely too close to a long-suffering sigh.

- - -

“Sir, Mr. Rhodes has arrived on the premises. I have guided him down to the lab area.”

Tony sat up in bed, startled out of the sleep he had fallen into although he had planned on running simulations on his tablet until Rhodey chose to arrive. The tablet was carefully set on top of the bedside drawer – no doubt thanks to Bruce – and when he turned to look, the other man had succumbed to sleep as well, a book resting on his chest, glasses on his nose.

Before getting up Tony returned the favor and put Bruce’s book and glasses to the side, then crawled out of bed, pulled on some clothes and padded out.

In the aftermath of the strange team supper they hadn’t talked all that much. It happened whenever they talked about sex; Bruce would shut down, wear that guarded expression, and Tony would once again remind himself it was too damn early. As J.A.R.V.I.S. had so delightfully pointed out to him, Tony used to fuck up any chance at a relationship by turning it into sex. Well, back then he hadn’t really looked for anything more stable – although he had thought he had a shot with Pepper, and he did because it wasn’t the romance that killed their relationship; it was the sight that welcomed him once he descended to the lab level: War Machine stood in the middle of the room, robotic arms at the ready to take off his suit at the first command.

“Hey,” Tony noted, suppressing a yawn.

“Would you like some coffee, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked helpfully.

“Thanks,” Tony acknowledged and stepped over to the suit that used to be his but had gone through so many modifications that it was hard to see it. “We should get you some new armor,” he quipped. “Re-design. Get rid of the Hammer tech that keeps downgrading my work.”

“I made you a list of stuff to look at,” Rhodey replied a bit bitingly. “Now get this thing off me.”

Tony smiled and snapped his fingers, watching as the suit came off. Since it was an older model, there were some hitches and he had to actually go in there with a screwdriver and a bunch of other tools to get the rest of it off his friend. James Rhodes almost stepped on him as he pulled his feet out of the boots that refused to open the entire way.

“What have you done to my suit?” Tony complained.

J.A.R.V.I.S. was already running up schematics on the changes and compiling data for Rhodey’s desired changes and improvements.

“Don’t give me that crap,” Rhodey noted and leaned back against a table that was slightly less cluttered than the other flat surfaces. “You gave War Machine your blessing.”

“Tell me again, are we still working out the details of routine maintenance?” Tony shot back. “Or do you have a billing address?”

Rhodey didn’t reply, just wandered over to where J.A.R.V.I.S. had just finished making a cup of coffee. Without a word Rhodey took it and sipped it carefully.

“Hey!” Tony argued.

“It’s late, I need a boost,” Rhodey defended himself. “Need to go places in the morning and my sleep will be cut short thanks to this detour.”

“Yeah? I dragged my ass out of bed for you,” Tony muttered.

“When are you coming back to Malibu?”

Somehow he had expected them to land on that question. “I don’t know,” he said honestly.

Rhodey was silent for a bit, sipping Tony’s coffee. Sure, the AI was already preparing another one but it wasn’t the point.

“Is it about Pepper, or the gig with the Avengers?” Rhodey asked next. “I know she feels bad and all, about the way it ended, but you’ll have to meet her half-way. Maybe it’s better you guys are back to being friends, no benefits.”

“It was more than that,” Tony said, leaning over the suit, trying to focus his mind on that.

“Yeah, it… seemed like it.” The other man hesitated for a moment. “Are you okay?” he asked then and it sounded like he was talking about more than Pepper now. “Pepper told me you had some kind of freak accident, but by the time she remembered to tell me you were already back in the saddle.”

“I’m fine,” Tony muttered; he knew Pepper had meant the incident with the Hulk, which landed him out of the saddle for quite a bit. Sometimes it still felt like he hadn’t climbed back in yet, but maybe that was just what Bruce projected on him. It served as a reminder of how long indeed it had been since he had been home and seen Rhodey. “We should catch up,” he said then, straightening, mind filled with fresh resolve. “You can go straight to your meeting from here. I have coffee. I can get a plane or a car to take you.”

Rhodey gave him a sad smile. “And the suit?”

“It won’t be ready tonight.”

“Figured.” He narrowed his eyes. “Don’t tweak it too much. It isn’t one of your toys. I like it the way it is.”

“So why the complaints?” Tony challenged him and went to the coffee maker to get the fresh cup of coffee.

“The problems are affecting the usability of the suit,” Rhodey snapped. “Just focus on those, okay?”

Tony sort of nodded but didn’t promise to do such a thing; there were improvements he wanted to make and he knew Rhodey would like them even if he didn’t think he would.

A door opened and feet padded over the floor. “Thought you might come down here,” Bruce mused, his shirt rumpled, hair all over the place; he must have woken up and gotten out of bed to search for him. He hadn’t even put on pants, which amused Tony a little.

“Half-asleep still, are we?” he teased softly.

Bruce frowned, stopped, then looked down and blushed a bit – especially when he noticed Rhodey who was standing very still. “Right. Sorry. Do you have…?”

“The shelf over there,” Tony pointed. Why he had extra clothes in a lab only Bruce could understand; you never knew when an experiment could backfire – literally.

Bruce shuffled over and pulled on a pair of pants to cover the boxer shorts he was wearing – a pair Tony had gotten him.

“Meet Dr. Bruce Banner,” Tony said by way of introduction. Bruce came around to shake Rhodey’s hand. “Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes,” Tony went on with the introductions, “one of my oldest friends and also the only man who’s had the guts to steal one of my suits.”

“War Machine,” Bruce smiled. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“You have?” Tony frowned.

Bruce shot him a look.

“Good to meet you, Doctor,” Rhodey replied, ever polite. “Your name sounds familiar. You work with the Avengers?”

“Indeed I do,” Bruce said, shuffling his feet a little, suddenly nervous as he realized Rhodey’s military background. “For now, anyway.”

“He keeps saying that, but he’s in for the long haul,” Tony tried lightening the mood, stepping over and placing an arm over Bruce’s shoulders. “Him and the big guy.”

Something must have clicked in Rhodey’s brain. Of course he would know whom the Avengers had included, out of professional and personal interest, and since the others were pretty noticeable it left only one option. “You’re the Hulk.”

Bruce gave a tense smile.

“He’s off-limits,” Tony said. “I don’t need to tell you that, Jim.”

Rhodey gave him a quizzical look, as if trying to see beneath the tone. “Can I talk to you for a moment?” he said then, setting the empty cup aside.

“If it’s about him,” Tony started, hand tightening on Bruce’s shoulder.

“It’s fine. I’ll go back up,” Bruce said quickly and exited the room so fast it was amazing he wasn’t actually running.

“J, make sure he doesn’t… wander off,” Tony said.

“I shall, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.

Tony turned his attention back to his friend and gave Rhodey a biting look.

“Tony, you know who he is!” Rhodey started. “The military has a long list of rules when it comes to a possible encounter with him. I can only imagine why since the whole world knows what he turns into.”

“He’s safe here,” Tony said flatly. “The military can go fuck themselves before I or S.H.I.E.L.D. will give him up. Don’t make me re-negotiate our friendship because of this, Rhodes.”

Rhodey blinked. “That’s not what I meant, Tony, but he’s…”

“He almost killed me once; I know exactly how dangerous he is,” Tony snapped.

“Killed you?”

“That ‘freak accident’ Pepper told you about? That was the Hulk’s fist smashing in my entire chest. And before you start telling me to resign from the team you should actually be proud that I’ve been allowed to join, I’ll tell you that it was Dr. Banner who saved my life after his greener half lost it because of my stupid antics.”

Rhodey blinked again, taking it all in. “I wasn’t going to tell you to leave the Avengers; that’s probably the greatest stunt you’ve ever pulled, getting to join them. Working alongside Captain America…”

Of course Rhodey would have a hard-on about that. Tony should have guessed.

“I’m just… What’s going on between you and Banner?” Rhodey asked, his face worried and uncertain. He didn’t look as tired as when he still was a liaison for Stark Industries, but his eyes had that same look in them.

Tony shifted. He hadn’t thought the other man would catch onto it so quick, but Rhodey knew him, had known him for years – longer than any of the Avengers – so maybe it was obvious to him. “It’s not about replacing Pepper,” he said finally, knowing it would come up and wanting to get it out of the way. “Me and him… we click. We mesh. We speak the same language, and while there are some… areas we have yet to explore, we’re on the same level. We fight together,” he finished a bit lamely, not knowing how to put it into words what he and Bruce had – and what he and Pepper never would have shared.

Rhodey nodded slowly. “Does Pepper know?”

“No,” Tony slapped his reply out there so fast he couldn’t even think of something else to go with it.

“Are you planning on telling her?”

“I… don’t know. Eventually, yes. We just came out to the team today,” Tony recalled, which did make his newest relationship sound a lot less amazing than it actually was.

“You’ll have to tell her eventually. Make sure you do,” Rhodey pointed a finger at him.

“Yes, Dad,” Tony rolled his eyes.

“Good. Now get me that plane and a car; I need to be somewhere in six hours and I can’t go there in the suit even if you got it ready in time.”

“You’re still a sourpuss, you know that?” Tony noted as he had J.A.R.V.I.S. set it up.

“I won’t even go to the trouble of explaining what you still are or aren’t, Mr. Stark,” the man threw over his shoulder before entering the bathroom to freshen up before the trip.

Tony simply grinned, laughed and shook his head in amusement.





to be continued…


Story Info