Title: Divvy Up
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Era: After “The Avengers” movie.
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Nick Fury, J.A.R.V.I.S., Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor (, Maria Hill, Pepper Potts)
Summary: Bruce and Tony find themselves sharing a telepathic connection in the aftermath of yet another villainous plot. It leads them to places neither of them could have anticipated as they sink deeper beneath each other’s skins.
Written for: SFX Prompt Big Bang 2012 (sfxpromptbang)
In response to glitterfics’ (glitterfics) prompt at sfxpromptbang (LiveJournal): Some lab accident or attack by a villain leads to Bruce and Tony becoming linked telepathically. How does this affect them? (Tony has to keep hold of his temper in case he sets the Hulk off, Bruce gets urges to drink - or hit on anything that moves etc) - Bruce/Tony
Warnings: Sexual content (masturbation & handjobs), slash (m/m), violence, non-important character death, little bits of bad language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Avengers, their characters and everything else belong to Marvel. The movie versions belong to Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier, 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: Heartily welcomed, concrit appreciated.
About Divvy Up: Responding to a prompt by glitterfics (see above), I immediately knew I wanted to tackle this one. The idea of Bruce and Tony sharing head-space is intriguing – and no doubt the two (read: Tony) would find it quite hot indeed.
The original plot was a loose sketch (something I think I need to fix in the future since it never does me any good), and the story developed a life of its own and ran off. After some editing, I’m still not sure if it does justice to the prompt and the spectacular idea behind it, but this is what was born in a random burst of writing and I hope you people reading this enjoy it!
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.
Written for SFX Prompt Big Bang 2012 at LiveJournal.
Based on a prompt by glitterfics (glitterfics).
The air was filled with debris from explosions, flashing lights from weapons and magic spells cancelling the sound of the police cars standing abandoned half a block away; one of them lay on its side and three more completely rolled over in sort of a shaky heap.
Bruce ducked his head, crossing the open distance between a S.H.I.E.L.D. truck that had been blasted against the side of a building and the strange machine sitting in the middle of a small park in New York. He clutched a heavy suitcase to his chest, trying to control his breathing.
“How you doing, Doc?” Tony asked him when he approached the machine. The engineer had practically crawled inside it, inching his way out from the horizontal shaft now that he approached with extra gear. Seeing Tony out of the suit made him appear small and vulnerable, yet Bruce found comfort in it as well, seeing as Tony’s presence left him with a companion in the middle of the action and he wasn’t supposed to Hulk out during this mission; they needed to stop the machine first.
Thunder rolled above them, lightning flashing bright, Thor giving one of their enemies another hit.
The guy in charge of their current opponents was another brilliant mind gone wrong after some major disappointment in his life, hell-bent on enslaving all mankind with the machine sitting next to them. Supposedly it would allow him to access the brainwaves of every man, woman, and child on the planet. They weren’t sure whether it would work but they weren’t about to find out either. Hence, Tony and Bruce were letting the others take care of the super-powered lackeys of the mastermind and working on the machine instead.
“I wish we had more time to analyze this,” Tony complained, opening the briefcase Bruce had brought over, tossing things out until he found what he was looking for and dug into it, taking the tech apart to find a certain piece of it that he thought could work in decommissioning the machine. “I could use it to make Pepper ignore me when I really can’t be bothered with the company stuff.”
Bruce allowed himself to smile, looking up again. It was only a matter of time before the villains noticed they were tinkering with their precious machine and broke through the perimeter the others had so vigorously tried to set. “How close are we?” Bruce asked.
“Not close enough,” Tony said then swore, shaking one of his hands. He must have shocked himself. “I’m still voting for the big guy to take a swing at this thing the old-fashioned way.”
Bruce grimaced. Sure, he could let the other guy take care of the machine but they had discovered an energy source which might just blast a crater-sized hole in the isle of Manhattan should someone try to take it apart violently. Why couldn’t the villains ever set their plans in motion in some remote, deserted place where they could just freely blow them to pieces?
“Grab that end,” Tony spoke up, offering Bruce one end of the cylinder he was trying to pry open. “You turn it left. We need to get this open.” They twisted and pulled but it didn’t work.
“Stark,” Steve’s voice came through the earpieces they were wearing in full Captain America mode. “Where are we on the machine?”
“Not there yet,” Tony replied, wresting with the cylinder.
“We’re running out of time.”
“I know that! Do you think I could have forgotten with Goldilocks and his hammer going off above us?”
“Just get it done. Agent Hill just informed me that Dr. Mora broke the perimeter and is coming in fast.”
“Now that’s just great,” Tony commented, then shifted and put one hand to his ear in order to hear better. “J.A.R.V.I.S., how are we on stopping any air-born signals to the Machine of Doom?”
“I have blocked all possible frequencies, sir,” the AI replied unhurriedly. Bruce could hear him as well from his own earpiece. “Manual start-up should still be possible, however.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony mused, banging the cylinder against the side of the machine in frustration. “Are you sure we can’t just blow it up?”
“The energy cores would create a blast strong enough to level a ten block radius, sir. There is also a possibility of radiation. I strongly advise you to not use physical force to shut down the machine.”
“Helpful as ever,” Tony sighed then looked at Bruce. “Ideas?”
“Can we just cut a wire?” Bruce suggested. They didn’t have nearly enough time to get acquainted with the tech and if Tony didn’t know what they should do, Bruce wasn’t going to make any guesses about it either.
“Good idea,” Tony said, snapping his fingers, digging around for cutters.
“Wait!” Bruce barked over a sound of another explosion in the distance. “Is that safe?”
“I have no idea,” Tony replied. “This tech is unconventional, I can’t analyze it properly and I have a strong feeling it won’t even work.”
“But if it does?”
Tony frowned unhappily, glaring at the machine the size of half a ship container. “I’m going in again. Let me know if something happens – the machine disturbs the radio and I want to know when the mad scientist is close enough to push a button.”
“They won’t let him that close,” Bruce reassured. The four Avengers were more than capable of stopping Dr. Mora who did not have any kind of powers other than the mad brilliance of his mind. His lackeys, however, were another matter, illustrated by the ongoing battle around them.
Tony pushed a bag into the opening that was probably some kind of maintenance shaft, wriggling in after his gear. Bruce stood up close to the side of the machine, once again feeling the other guy probe at his concentration. He couldn’t lose control, though. The team and Tony depended on it, although he had told them various times that being in the middle of a battlefield was a guaranteed Hulk-out episode waiting to happen.
So far he had been able to keep his cool…
“Banner?” Natasha’s voice called after a moment, brisk over the comm signal.
“Yeah?” Bruce replied.
“Where’s Stark? I just tried to get a hold of him.”
“He’s in the machine,” Bruce replied, looking at the small opening he would barely squeeze through should he try. It was a good thing Tony had no fear of enclosed spaces. Then again, he had probably been crawling into machinery since he was a toddler…
“Get him out of there. Dr. Mora is getting closer and he has some kind of remote.”
“J.A.R.V.I.S. is blocking the signals, he shouldn’t be able to start the machine without doing it in person,” Bruce replied.
“Are you completely certain of that?” Clint’s voice interrupted Natasha’s reply. “He’s fiddling with the remote again.”
Bruce counted the odds. Tony’s AI was brilliant and could get the job done but if there was something they hadn’t counted on… “Stop him!” he barked then.
The line was filled with static and a huge explosion shook the ground. He looked out towards it, wondering if everyone was okay, then heard another sound, much closer. As he turned his head he saw the machine coming to life, lights blinking, small pieces moving.
“Dr. Banner, please inform Mr. Stark the machine is showing signs of life. I have recorded no signals coming in or out of it but it seems to be operational,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke to his ear.
“Yeah, I can see that. Shit. Tony!” he shouted, throwing himself down on all fours in front of the hatch. “Tony, you have to get out, the machine’s starting –”
The whirring intensified. He could feel a static on his skin, being so close. It was dark inside but he thought he could see a faint blue glow.
Not thinking about it, he squeezed his shoulders through the hole and wriggled in. “Tony!” he shouted again. “We need to –”
“Fuck!” Tony’s voice answered from around a corner and then he was crawling towards him, pushing his body forward. “We don’t get paid enough for this shit!”
Bruce felt like laughing with relief and started to push his body outwards. The whirring sounds intensified, drowning out everything else. In the dark he could make out some inner lights of the machine and the arc reactor in Tony’s chest whenever he heaved his upper body up. Every hair on his body was standing and he felt like he was suffocating.
Pushing back the rest of the way into the cool outside air, Bruce hovered by the mouth of the shaft, watching Tony. “Come on, I don’t think you’re supposed to be in there –”
“I’m looking at something. Maybe something vital. I think I can reach it,” Tony interrupted him, stopping in the middle of the shaft.
Bruce felt like he was watching one of those disaster films where one of the characters was too slow to make it through an obstacle and the others just watched him die. “Just keep moving, Tony,” he urged. “We’ll worry about it later.”
“Throw me a wrench!”
“No, I want you to –”
“We need to stop this thing! Stop being a wimp and throw me that wrench!”
There was one just outside the hatch and Bruce grabbed it, throwing it into the shaft with a clang. He could see Tony reaching out for it, looking at something above him, measuring.
“What are you doing?” Bruce asked, feeling powerless as he just watched.
“There’s a circuit board right here. I think if I smash it…”
The machine trembled, coming to life with deafening volume. Tony yelped as the shaft filled with sparks and an electric current even Bruce could feel while sitting just outside it. With a jerk of his arms Tony brought up the wrench in the narrow space, hitting the ceiling of the shaft repeatedly until something must have malfunctioned; the ceiling spat sparks at him, making Tony cover his face.
Bruce jolted forward, pushing into the shaft again, reaching out, and catching a hold of Tony’s shoulder. He started pulling him out and soon he felt Tony’s hand grabbing his forearm, his weight coming easier when the man started actually helping him move his body out of the hatch. Bruce still pulled until Tony almost sat in his lap, panting hard, shaking with adrenaline.
“Next time, let’s just blow it up,” Tony laughed madly a moment later. There were small burn marks on his face, a few bleeding cuts.
Bruce groaned, heart hammering in his throat. The other guy was so close to surfacing he had to look a little green. Beside them the machine was hiccupping, making the earth beneath them shake. Tony glanced at it then back at Bruce, his fingers still tight on his arm and shoulder.
“We should move. I think we broke it,” the engineer suggested.
Bruce began to scramble up, Tony attempting to do the same.
Above them, one of the super-powered villains turned sharply and Thor flew after him. A lightning bolt and some kind of laser beam met in the air, pushing at each other, not giving an inch – then it seemed they lost contact and the lightning came crashing down, right at them.
Bruce didn’t think; he just grabbed Tony who was still close, trying to launch both of them out of the way or at least stand between the danger and the other man, knowing the Hulk could take what Tony’s body could not. The impact of the lightning sent them flying. Half of it seemed to hit the ground, another part the machine, the ground shaking and breaking, jostling them up from where they had fallen, intense heat and a blast pushing them away.
Everything was quiet after that.
When Tony came to, he had a few very carefully selected thoughts on his mind.
“This is the last time I don’t suit up for a mission. Jesus…” He reached up with half-numb arms, cradling his head, which felt like it was being split from the pain.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” Steve noted from above him. He looked like he had gotten a beating, face smudged and a few cuts healing, but otherwise he appeared just as pristine as ever in the aftermath of a mission. “That blast could have taken you both out.”
“I take it half of Manhattan isn’t blown to smithereens, then?” Tony asked. God, even talking hurt. Not to mention thinking.
“No. Whatever you guys did, it worked. The machine didn’t have any kind of effect and I’m told the energy source is still whole despite Thor’s lightning bolt grazing it. The machine must have been powering down by the time he hit it.”
“Good, good…” Tony replied, trying not to moan in pain. He closed his eyes because that felt better. “How’s Bruce?”
“I’m fine,” the other man’s voice replied. He sounded just as brutal as Tony felt. “I didn’t even transform, which must be a new record. Sorry about that.”
“I thought I would protect you from the blast. No such luck, obviously.”
“It’s the thought that counts,” Tony smiled a little. Yeah, he remembered Bruce yanking him closer, probably planning on Hulking out and sheltering them both. “Maybe next time.”
“Next time I’ll be big and green and you’ll be in a suit.”
Tony chuckled then moaned in pain. “My head hurts,” he commented.
“You don’t appear injured other than some bruises from the blast,” Steve replied, not sounding worried. “Bruce is the same way. Just lie still and try not to make it worse.”
Tony forced his eyes open again, seeing Steve getting up and walking off. He turned his head, finding himself still on the ground, Bruce beside him and not looking any better. Well, considering that they could be dead right now had the machine exploded, this outcome wasn’t half bad.
Bruce had his eyes closed, a grimace on his face. Tony guessed that if the scientist felt anything like he did, the expression was thoroughly justified. Feeling like he could use a nap or two, Tony rested his eyes in hopes of the headache vanishing but had no such luck: when S.H.I.E.L.D. agents approached to take them to a waiting Quinjet, Tony was still very much awake and in pain. Getting up and sitting in the plane didn’t help.
The rest of their team was banged up and most of the villains had escaped, including Dr. Mora. Thor sat in gloomy silence, Mjolnir across his lap; Clint had a burn mark going around one of his arms, seared through the protective clothing and all the way to the skin, a faint smell of grilled meat hanging around him; Natasha had a dislocated kneecap and yet she still insisted she could walk on her own. Compared to them Steve seemed to be in pretty good shape, although he was limping and the amount of healing injuries was greater than most days.
Tony knew he should feel thankful but he would have rather been in the suit and taken part in the actual battle. Maybe that way his head wouldn’t be feeling like exploding, either.
Bruce looked like he shared his sentiment.
Fury was waiting for them when they landed on the Helicarrier, already briefing Agent Hill. Clint and Natasha were taken to the med bay while the rest of them stayed behind.
“What the hell happened down there?” Fury demanded.
“They were determined,” Steve answered, “and much better coordinated than our usual adversaries. They took me by surprise, sir.” Of course Steve didn’t even try to imply that being short two of his team might affect the outcome. Tony would have happily blamed the near disaster on that but he wasn’t the team leader for a reason – or so he had been told.
“They had tech we didn’t understand, better equipment than we expected, not to mention they worked better as a team than our usual villainous groups,” Tony supplied. “How is it that we didn’t get wind of their plans until they had already set up their machine in central New York?”
Fury’s eye was as cold as usual and he didn’t give an inch. “We salvaged what was left of the device. I want you to find out what exactly it is and whether it can actually do what it was purposed to do.”
“Oh, so now we can move it but not before?” Tony snapped, the pain in his head making him more irritable than before. “This whole ordeal would have been much easier if we could have just dunked the entire thing in the Upper Bay!”
“Stark,” Fury started.
“You should get your head checked,” Steve stepped in. “You and Bruce both. You look like you’re in pain.”
“Damn right we are,” Tony muttered and started walking towards the nearest elevator, Bruce trailing him.
“You still think Fury is hiding things from us?” Bruce asked.
“He’s still the spy,” Tony replied needlessly, pressing the elevator button about a dozen times before one arrived to take them down to the med bay. “I think he just enjoys seeing us squirm on the field. Remind us of our mortality or some shit.”
Bruce didn’t reply – nor did he argue it either. He just leaned heavily against the wall, a pained expression on his face and allowed Tony to fume.
The headache lasted for two days. On the third it felt like a miracle to be without the pain in his skull. Seeing as all and any meds had been unable to block the sharp agony, it felt like life resumed again when it was gone.
Bruce celebrated it by taking a long shower which he actually enjoyed, then walked out in comfortable clothes to join whoever else was up for breakfast. Steve, of course, had already been on his morning run, to the gym and was now looking for a snack in the fridge. Thor was checking out the TV for something that would pique his interest. Natasha was probably out in a painkiller-induced coma, seeing as Clint had promised to make sure she rested in order to be back on her feet soon, and the archer could be lurking anywhere in the brand new Avengers Tower, relaxing as only he knew how.
After getting himself some breakfast Bruce sat down with it and the paper while Steve conversed with J.A.R.V.I.S. about the day’s menu. With his metabolism it was amazing he found time for something other than eating, but perhaps being in a war had taught him to go hungry. Not that Bruce envisioned anyone would have chosen to let their Super Soldier starve to death if they could help it, seeing as he was worth more than a dozen men when it was time to go to battle.
Tony wandered in some time later and Bruce guessed he felt better, too; complaints about a headache would have otherwise preceded him a few floors away when Tony made his way up to the dining area. Right now he had a drink in hand and greeted them with his usual cheer.
“Your head feeling better?” Bruce asked needlessly.
“Yes, thanks for asking. You look positively alive as well,” Tony smiled.
Steve regarded the glass of amber liquid he was holding. “Don’t you think it might be better to lay off the alcohol for at least a few hours now that your head is not hurting?”
Tony snorted. “I have a threshold. I’ve had one since I was a teenager; hangovers are for amateurs.”
Bruce bit the inside of his cheek since he was quite positive Tony was also very well versed in dealing with hangovers, especially if most of his headache-related complaints were to be believed. Sure, it would take more than one drink but in Steve’s eyes one and a dozen were probably the same since their leader couldn’t get inebriated at all.
Tony sipped his drink, savoring it and putting on a show which made Steve frown and shake his head. Bruce just smiled, finding it amusing, and a moment later Tony winked at him. It was as if they were sharing some kind of secret conspiracy.
“Wassup, nerds?” Clint asked as he waltzed in.
“I resent that, Birdbrain,” Tony pointed at him with one finger while the other four remained wrapped around the glass. “And he resents it, too.”
“Uh...” But yes, Bruce did kind of resent that – mostly because he had always been a nerd at school and while he knew there was no way he could be considered cool with his level of intelligence – which the jocks always seemed intimidated by – he didn’t have to like being called one, especially when it was an insult.
Clint just rolled his eyes. “Don’t get your panties in a twist, Stark. Cap, do we have anything to eat?” he asked as he sauntered by. Tony went to snatch a pen from the table – one that Bruce had previously used to fill a crossword puzzle – and tossed it after the archer. Clint caught it with a minimum of effort and tossed it right back, the pen landing in Tony’s drink and spilling some of it on his hand.
“Son of a –”
“Language!” Steve snapped. “And yes, there is food. What should we eat later? I’ve been talking to J.A.R.V.I.S…”
“Always one step ahead,” Clint mused. “I don’t care, as long as there’s food.” He went past Steve and dug into the fridge, retrieving things for himself and Natasha. They had all settled down at the former Stark Tower pretty soon after the Tesseract Event – as S.H.I.E.L.D. called it – and by now it was relatively easy to tell who ate which items in the fridge.
After Clint left the room grew quiet again; Steve grabbed some snacks and joined Thor by the TV. Bruce reached out and fished the pen out of Tony’s drink where it still stood. The other man snapped his eyes towards him, gave him a ghost of a smile and finished his drink in one go.
“What are you up to later?” Bruce asked as he dried the pen on a napkin and tested whether it was still working. Maybe once it dried…
“Tinkering with the suit,” Tony replied.
“Mind if I tag along?” Bruce surprised himself by asking but he had a sudden inclination to accompany Tony, regardless of the fact that there were a million things he could be doing on the R&D floors himself.
Tony looked pleasantly surprised and smiled. “Sure, why not?” Usually he didn’t welcome people to watch as he worked on the Iron Man armor but Bruce was ever the exception, being appreciative of Tony’s designs, whereas even the other Avengers couldn’t appreciate the brilliance that went into the suit. They knew it was possibly the most high-tech weapon/exoskeleton there was, but they couldn’t comprehend the mechanics of it. Well, neither did Bruce but he could watch and study it, understanding more every time he sat with Tony and even helped him.
They headed down a few floors and Tony let them into his personal workspace. Schematics came to life on the walls and the AI welcomed them in, all business, shooting calculations and results from the night’s tests towards Tony, flooding him with information.
It felt like home.
“Sit anywhere,” Tony told him and Bruce found himself a chair he could roll around the floor.
The floor opened and a piece of armor rose from it on a stand. Tony walked around it, raised some 3D models and got to work. Some time went by before he seemed to snap out of it. “It’s quiet here.”
“Yeah,” Bruce agreed.
“It’s never quiet in my lab. Why is it quiet, J.A.R.V.I.S.?”
“You didn’t request any background music, sir. Should I begin one of the playlists?”
Tony frowned, then shrugged. “No, it’s fine.”
Bruce smiled. Tony liked things loud and metallic which certainly wasn’t for everyone. Bruce found silence so much more peaceful, his focus narrowed to the task at hand.
He turned towards a workspace and tapped at the holographic screens, choosing a file and raising a miniature model from the table. It was a new armor prototype Tony had in the works. He looked at it then made a gesture with his hand as if to turn it around, sending it spinning madly. It was Tony’s way of looking at things, filled with movement and chaos; Bruce personally found it dizzying, unable to focus on anything, but right now he found it rather calming.
“What do you think?” Tony asked, noticing what he was looking at.
Bruce poked the miniature suit, making it halt. “Do you have an idea where you’re going with it?”
“Not really. It’s a stripped down version, a base to build upon… I’ve been thinking of specialized suits. Have you ever gone diving? J.A.R.V.I.S., what is the record depth for a dive in a suit – not counting vessels and submarines?”
“The depth record for an atmospheric diving suit is at 2000 feet, sir.”
“Records are made to be broken…” Tony mused, a thoughtful look on his face. “I’ve always wanted to visit the Titanic, or the Mariana Trench.” He pulled a new holographic screen from the floor, tapping and drawing calculations on it, perhaps already imagining himself at the bottom of the ocean.
It was not something Bruce would have put on his list of things to do, especially when he imagined the dark pressure of water and a few lonely fish around him.
Tony soon abandoned the screen and put it away, glancing at Bruce again. “Something to think about later,” he decided.
“Good,” Bruce allowed himself to admit. “I would hate to have to come and rescue you from the bottom of the ocean after a test drive gone wrong.”
“I’ll have you know that I generally have perfect control over my tests,” Tony defended himself.
“Like that first flight with Mark II and the icing problem?” Bruce grinned.
“Did J.A.R.V.I.S. tell you about that?”
“You gave Dr. Banner a high security clearance, sir. There was no reason not to divulge that information when he asked for any points of concern in your armor, past and present.”
Tony raised an eyebrow at Bruce, who blushed faintly. “Well, we are on the same team; I wanted to know if there was anything I should keep an eye on while in battle.”
“Yes, because you’re usually in control while we’re in the midst of a battle, Mr. Green.”
Months ago it would have made Bruce stiffen and shut down, but he knew Tony and felt safe with him. Mad as it was… “Call it professional curiosity, then,” he shrugged.
Tony snapped his fingers and the holo projections disappeared, signaling that he was done working. The armor he had been tinkering with sank back into the floor, panels closing behind it and leaving no visible sign there was anything suspicious beneath the surface.
Bruce followed the other man out of the lab, the lights automatically switched off behind them.
“I solved the icing problem that very night, just so you know,” Tony went on as they took the stairs.
Bruce laughed, unable to help himself. With the headache gone and spending time with Tony, he was in a good mood. Why not show it? Tony always told him to relax more.
The next week was blissfully quiet. S.H.I.E.L.D. was still tracking Dr. Mora and his followers but no other mind-enslaving machines had appeared anywhere in the world. S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists were analyzing the machine they had in their possession and Tony was amazed he hadn’t been called in yet to unlock its mysteries.
Well, Tony had no problems waiting for Fury’s call and to have the man ask him personally for his help.
The team was relaxing at home in the tower which had quickly become the place to be for the Avengers in the aftermath of the Chitauri attack. He didn’t even need to fix the sign outside, which was kind of ironic.
Tony sometimes wondered if it would have ended differently with him and Pepper had he fixed the sign and housed the Avengers somewhere else, but the transition back to their old routines had been so easy the fault must have laid somewhere else. As it was, Tony wasn’t certain whether they were still somewhat together or not, but he wasn’t going to dwell on that. Over-thinking had never been either a quality or a fault of his.
He stepped into the living room area, which he had completely remodeled after the team moved in. Bruce was seated on the couch, staring intently at a tablet before him, notes scattered around it. He kept snapping his fingers in a pattern that seemed familiar, making Tony nod his head approvingly as he walked up to the kitchen area. He felt like drinking something and dug around, then settled for tea; he had seen a cup by Bruce’s elbow, the aromatic smell pleasant in his nose.
After the hot drink was done brewing, Tony carried it to the living room, sitting down in his favorite spot. Natasha and Clint were seated on the opposite side of the table, quiet and staring. After a moment Tony stared back at them, wondering what was up.
“Okay, this is creeping me out,” Natasha finally stated.
“What is?” Tony asked.
“Bruce keeps snapping his fingers and you’re drinking tea.”
“A guy isn’t allowed to snap his fingers – or drink tea?” he challenged the spy’s logic.
“Bruce never snaps his fingers; you’re the one who does that, exactly the same way he’s doing it now. And I used to work for you and you never drank tea. Ever.”
Tony frowned. “That could hardly be called ‘working for me’. More like ‘spying on my privacy’. And our fearless leader keeps telling me to eat and drink healthily, so here it is,” he raised the tea mug slightly to underline his argument.
Bruce looked up from what he had been doing, fingers shifting almost nervously against one another – but no more snapping. “Maybe we’re just picking up each other’s habits. Although… I’ve never been good at snapping my fingers.” He looked down at them and tested it. Sure enough, now that he was focusing on it the sound was clumsier.
“I still don’t see where the problem is,” Tony noted, tasting the tea and grimacing a bit. “Okay, we can establish I don’t drink tea because it tastes all… ugh…”
Bruce gave him a look.
Tony just shrugged and pushed the mug away.
The other man reached out and pulled it closer to himself, clearly intending on drinking it if Tony wasn’t about to.
“It’s definitely weird,” Clint agreed from his spot beside Natasha.
“Doesn’t need to mean anything,” Tony defended them both and got up to get himself a big cup of coffee instead.
After the minor tea incident, which by itself wasn’t all that strange or alarming, strange things started to happen.
On the less alarming end of the scale, Bruce spent time with Tony working on Iron Man – which wasn’t unpleasant at all. At the same time Tony took time to enjoy Bruce’s section of the R&D floors, brushing up on his physics.
Somewhere in the middle of the ‘Odd Things Happening’ –scale, Tony noticed a habit of wringing his hands, which was a very Bruce thing to do, matching the other man’s adopted habit of snapping his fingers. Again, nothing alarming, but definitely something new and why was he wringing his hands? There was absolutely no need for it and it was ridiculous.
The most glaring and obvious sign that something was off, however, showed itself when Pepper came by a few days later, her new assistant in tow. Tony had seen her only briefly before, didn’t remember her name and called her Natalie 2.0 in his head because she reminded him of Natasha’s alter ego so much.
Who knew, maybe this one was a S.H.I.E.L.D. shadow as well, or that Pepper was attracted to the strict, bossy type that could possibly kick Tony’s ass at any given moment.
That, of course, didn’t mean she wasn’t smoking hot and the fact that Bruce sat up on the couch when the two women entered was only natural. Well, natural to most men; Bruce Banner was usually quiet and reserved, avoiding eye-contact – and any other kind of contact. He didn’t chat up women nor show any kind of interest which could have been seen as seductive or romantic – all of which might have something to do with his past relationship with Betty Ross, the Hulk problem, or being a total geek.
Tony, of course, had never dealt with such problems, and to have Bruce lean over and say, “If you and Pepper are still a thing, can I have the other one?” was totally out of character.
Only, it was along the lines Tony himself had been thinking and he may have even acted on it if not for his problems with Pepper and his experience with the original Natalie Rushman.
As it was, he looked at Bruce who gave him a wink and then turned to face the approaching women.
“Tony,” Pepper started in full ‘I’m your boss and you haven’t done your job properly’ mode.
Bruce jumped up, all smiles and offering his hand to Pepper’s assistant. “Hi, I’m Bruce. If your afternoon looks free I would be happy to fill it.”
Tony just gaped, as did the women.
Bruce must have realized what he was doing; he blinked, his face going blank and a nervous laugh escaping his mouth. “I’ll just… let you take care of business,” he said and escaped the room.
“That was strange. Is Bruce okay?” Pepper frowned.
Tony felt a sudden flood of nervousness and shame hit his stomach like a tidal wave. He had no idea where that had come from and cleared his throat. “Sure, yeah.” He flashed Natalie 2.0 an awkward smile. “He was caught off guard by the sheer hotness of your arrival.”
Pepper just frowned at him but forgot about the whole thing in the same heartbeat, taking it as another one of Tony’s antics – even when it hadn’t been Tony who started it.
Tony leaned back on the couch, knowing that by the time Pepper left he would have a lap full of paperwork to deal with – and Bruce’s strange behavior to mull over.
Bruce had retreated to his lab where it was easy to pretend he was busy although his mind couldn’t have been farther away.
What had he been thinking? Had he actually tried to hit on Pepper Potts’ assistant?! Not that he had gotten very far but he had been all for it with bravery and nerve he had never possessed in his life.
To be exact, he had been Tony for one brief second; totally unashamed, totally into it, totally confident.
With a groan he rested his face in his hands, leaning heavily against the far wall as if its solid surface would support him as well.
“Bruce?” Steve’s voice called out. Bruce raised his eyes at his friend and leader who stood a bit nervously in the doorway. “Is everything okay?” Steve went on. “I saw you almost run in here and…”
Bruce started with an explanation about some test he had suddenly remembered he should be conducting, or some brilliant idea he needed to write down before he forgot it, but it all got stuck in his throat as he once again recalled the few shameful seconds upstairs.
“I just need a few seconds to center myself,” he said instead, knowing that anyone who knew him would assume this was related to the other guy and he was more than happy to use that as an excuse.
Steve nodded. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Once the other man was gone Bruce returned to the wall and banged his head against it a few times, wondering what the hell was wrong with him.
The door opened again a while later and he heard Tony’s familiar steps. “Hey, Don Juan, the coast is clear and you can come out of hiding.” There was a barely contained laughter in his voice.
Bruce turned around but still leaned on the wall, watching Tony approach. The man set down a stack of paperwork, giving it a distasteful look, then looked at him again.
“What the hell was that?” Tony asked next, the grin evening out a bit.
“I have no idea,” Bruce admitted. “It… seemed like a good idea for about two seconds?”
“Well, I’m sure you left a lasting impression, Romeo,” Tony agreed, laughed just a little, then cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “It was really odd,” he concluded needlessly.
“It was like a bad imitation of you.”
“A horrible imitation,” Tony agreed, a thoughtful look on his face. “But you totally went for it and it was so unlike you… And in the aftermath I swear I could feel your shame and uncertainty, which reflected on the rest of my discussion with Pepper. That is why I partially blame you for all the extra paperwork she managed to leave me.”
Bruce could hear a slight accusation in Tony’s voice but didn’t take it to heart. “Maybe my brain just shorted for a moment.” He slid his hands together in a somewhat nervous manner.
There were aspects of the whole incident that bothered them both in the backs of their minds but for the time being they refused to analyze or find a way to test it – not until it became glaringly obvious that something was indeed wrong on a whole new level of weird.
After a few slow days of recuperating, the team was called in to visit the Helicarrier. Fury’s scientists had finally hit a wall in their investigation of the machine that Dr. Mora had set up in that small park in New York – the machine that had almost gotten both Bruce and Tony killed.
Upon their arrival the Avengers decided to go and see the machine before Tony and Bruce set to work on it. The others would spend some time training and doing whatever there was to do on the Helicarrier in between missions and briefings – which, as Tony liked to point out, wasn’t much.
As they entered a testing area they found the machine had been taken apart and some sections of it looked like they had been blown apart. “What the hell happened to it?” Tony asked, shifting one lonely piece of metal with his foot. He sounded ticked off, a frown on his face.
Fury and Agent Hill entered the room behind them. “A few residual safety protocols that were activated when we took the machine apart,” Fury answered the question.
Tony turned to face him. “You know that understanding foreign tech usually works best when it’s still intact, possibly even operational?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Stark, but I don’t think we would have gotten very far by just looking at the thing.”
“You didn’t get anywhere at all, seeing as I’m here to clean up after you. What am I supposed to make with this pile of rubble?”
“Use your imagination.”
“Why not let us take a look at it in the first place? Your monkey squad of scientists has just about ruined whatever’s left of the machine!”
“Then I trust you to put it back together.”
“You could at least admit you screwed this one up.”
“Yours is not the only intelligent mind at my disposal,” Fury snapped.
“Yeah? Well then, how about you call those other intelligent minds to take a look at this one because I’m not interested in already chewed up toys!”
Bruce’s chest tightened at Tony’s tone. He felt his irritation as if it was his own, the frustration that his work would be so much harder thanks to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s specialists ruining the machine. Fury wasn’t backing down either and the tension in the room was rising.
The others didn’t seem to bat an eye, seeing as how Tony and Fury were always at each other’s throats over whatever was currently upsetting their armor-wearing comrade, but for Bruce this was different; the other guy was getting anxious, forcing him to steady his breathing desperately, fighting for control.
“Bruce?” Natasha was the first to notice, turning to look at him. “Are you okay?”
Bruce just groaned, closing his eyes, doubling over, trying to center himself.
“Just get to work and spout your complaints at someone who cares,” Fury was saying.
“I don’t need you to care, Eye-patch, but I would love you to understand that I don’t even need to be here!”
“And you don’t need to be on the Avengers either.”
“Right, I forgot; I don’t even fucking qualify. How about you find yourself another specialist that you can shove your fist up –”
“Tony,” Bruce gasped. He felt the change beneath the skin.
“Could you stop for a moment?” Steve snapped and just like that Tony’s emotions seemed to recede, shifting from anger to concern.
“Bruce? Hey, buddy, you okay? Look at me,” Tony was saying, stepping closer. Bruce didn’t need to see him or hear him to know he was right there, touching his shoulder. “You in there?”
“Yeah. Thanks,” Bruce took a deep breath. “Could you not be angry for two seconds? I would appreciate that.”
He heard Tony’s deep breath, heard him shift, then the anger pulled further away. The sense of alarm passed and Bruce finally opened his eyes, straightening almost painfully. Tony still had a hand on his shoulder which actually had a grounding effect. The others had stepped back just a bit, looking at him warily.
“What was that?” Clint finally asked.
“A bit too much tension in the air,” Bruce offered.
“Uh-huh,” Tony mused, quiet, biting his lip for a moment, his dark eyes searching his face. Bruce met them. For one moment it felt like they were totally in synch, breathing and thoughts both, not calm but definitely less wound up. “Do you want to step out for a moment?” Tony asked, meaning the hallway and not the deck since they were flying above the clouds and breathing might become a bit of an issue.
“No, it’s fine – as long as you don’t start from where you left off.” He allowed his eyes to drift past Tony’s shoulder at Fury who was looking even more thoughtful if possible.
“Sure thing,” Tony promised him.
Bruce knew he meant it although there was no way he could explain how exactly he was so certain about that.
Fury left them alone after Bruce’s little close call with the Hulk, as well as the rest of the team.
Tony and Bruce dug around the remnants of the machine, digging up images and readings the S.H.I.E.L.D. scientists had taken. Tony dismissed most of them, putting them away for further reference; he preferred to make his own calculations and readings, not trusting the others to do it right.
Bruce felt calmer and Tony was amazed how he hadn’t felt it earlier; when he had paused his shouting match with Fury he could feel how close to the edge Bruce was. Frankly, it freaked him out a little because he had never imagined what it must feel like to lose control like that, or to be about to. As much as Bruce had described the process of turning into the Hulk, Tony had never grasped the exact feelings that went with it.
Not until today.
“I think we should –” Tony started.
“– talk about it,” Bruce finished.
They looked over at each other across the broken bulk of the machine.
Tony was no stranger to finishing sentences – he did it often enough with Pepper and even Rhodey – but this was a nanosecond faster, as if they had thought of the exact same thing at exactly the same time – or just knew what the other was about to say. A slight yet glaring difference which he couldn’t really put his finger on…
“I have a high threshold for outside stimuli,” Bruce started.
“But you felt my anger as your own and I could feel your struggle once I started to pay attention,” Tony completed the thought. “That isn’t –”
“– normal,” Bruce nodded. “I just realized that. And all the other things that have been happening – could they be related?”
“We might as well assume they are.” Tony went over a list in his head, feeling almost paranoid, looking at odd behavioral patterns and little things that had either made no sense or could have been classified as normal but still stood out.
“Drinking tea,” Bruce started.
“Playing with my holograms,” Tony went on.
“Wringing your hands.”
“I haven’t –”
“Oh yes you have,” Bruce insisted. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”
“Well, you’ve been snapping your fingers – and hitting on Pepper’s hot assistant,” Tony shot back in retaliation. They both chuckled at that then fell silent again – only Tony kept thinking of that moment and wondered if Bruce would have actually gotten laid with that sorry excuse of a pick up line.
Bruce threw a piece of metal at him, missing on purpose, as if he knew what Tony was thinking about and they both chuckled again. “If I hadn’t panicked, I would have so had her. I mean, if I was interested.”
Tony blinked. “Did I just say something out loud?” he asked.
“No, you didn’t… Oh,” Bruce stopped talking.
A silence grew between them, the machine lying there like some kind of wall of safety. At the same time it was like a fact glaring at both of them, driving them closer to a mutually understandable answer.
“The machine was supposed to let Dr. Mora control the thoughts of others,” Tony started.
“Yes, but the others said it was powering down by the time Thor hit it with his lightning,” Bruce reminded him.
“What about residual energy? Our proximity to it? Something did blow up!” Tony felt his heart-rate increasing and Bruce looked a little green all of a sudden – literally.
“Could you please try not to get so… excited?” the scientist managed before stepping back from Tony and the remnants of the machine, taking deep swallows of air.
“I thought you had a lid on it,” Tony murmured but tried to get his feelings under control more than he usually had to.
“I do, but somehow you are managing to blast in right through that. It’s almost like it was in the beginning, although I know I should be able to be in control,” Bruce frowned unhappily as if he was making difficult calculations in his head. He looked at Tony then, eyes wide and almost accusing. “For the time being, try not to get too… emotional.”
“Emotional. Got it,” Tony murmured.
The machine had revealed nothing at all and Bruce and Tony decided that there was no reason to tell the others – yet – about what they may have discovered. It was premature and they wanted to test it out first. Of course, to conduct any reliable tests they would need outside help.
“We could always ask the others but not tell them what it is about,” Tony suggested.
“Or we could just ask J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Bruce reminded him.
“I am at your service, Dr. Banner,” the AI said promptly.
Tony looked up at the ceiling, half-way between raising an eyebrow and frowning. “Don’t sound too excited.”
“I apologize, sir, for operating under your guidance to provide Dr. Banner with ‘anything and everything he requires’.”
Bruce looked at Tony.
The man shifted, embarrassed, which was kind of amusing. Bruce liked the feeling of catching him red-handed. “Anything and everything I require?” he mimicked J.A.R.V.I.S. the best he could – who clearly had been repeating Tony’s own words.
Tony shrugged dismissively. “I told him that about all the Avengers.”
“You were particularly firm when it came to Dr. Banner, sir,” the AI piped up again.
Tony looked accusingly at a spot in the wall where some of J.A.R.V.I.S.’s sensors probably were. “I’m going to dismantle you and melt your circuits…”
“Of course, sir.”
Bruce gave that general spot a fond smile. “I appreciate it.”
Tony sat up, looking at him and narrowing his eyes. “I’m not even sure who is kissing who’s ass here.”
“I’m sure you are feeling very sorry it isn’t yours,” Bruce dared.
“You bet your rosy little mouth, Banner. Now, are we only talking about tests or conducting some?”
Bruce decided to dismiss the crude comment in favor of talking about science. “Well, we know we’re picking up on each other’s habits – especially unconscious ones. That is probably why I, for the time being, am still fine with people handing me things,” he concluded.
“And I’m still wearing pants that don’t stretch three times in every dimension.”
“Ha ha,” Bruce faked a laugh. “Now, there might be something else we haven’t discovered yet. Perhaps sensory play…”
“I’ll bring in the blindfolds, baby.”
Somehow Bruce knew he wasn’t exactly kidding. “You know what I mean. J.A.R.V.I.S., could something like that be arranged? I think we should place ourselves in areas where we cannot see or hear each other, and test whether some sensations carry over to the other.”
“I like how your brain works. Have I told you that? You’re finally beginning to strut!” Tony grinned.
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Bruce told him but it was hard to resist a smile of his own.
Tony was never subtle when he wanted something – or someone. He had made it quite clear that he found various aspects of Bruce ‘sexy as hell’, especially his mind, and while it could usually be passed off as a friendly joke between them, Bruce sensed some heat behind it for the first time.
Or was it just him? Right now he wasn’t able to tell. After all, being around Tony was easier than being around most people; he found that out the very day they met and shook hands. It wasn’t just that Tony was completely fascinated by the other guy and seemed to see him in a completely different light than anyone else. He wasn’t stupid, he knew the risks, but he also failed or refused to think it was all bad and that the Hulk simply provided the world with destructive power.
That was probably the biggest motivator for why Bruce drove the motorcycle to the Stark Tower when he could have gone in the opposite direction after crashing in Jersey.
At some point all those feelings had turned… well, ‘warm’ was perhaps too strong of a word, but he didn’t mind Tony’s company and sometimes even sought it out on his own. As someone who had tried to avoid that kind of closeness for years Bruce had noticed the change but tried not to over-analyze it.
“I have set aside two rooms for your experiment,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up. “Should you need any further assistance or technological help, let me know.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Suck up.”
“I aim to please.”
Bruce chuckled and stood up. “Should we get this show on the road?”
They first went to Tony’s workshop, then to the R&D labs, gathering things they might need. J.A.R.V.I.S. had found them two unused rooms across from each other and they entered, making their preparations.
“J., you up?” Tony asked, setting up a screen and switching it on.
“Indeed, sir,” the AI responded and took over the screen, then the one they set up in the other room.
“Okay, this is the idea,” Bruce announced as they sat in one of the rooms with Tony. He knew J.A.R.V.I.S. was listening, as always. “We each go to one room and hook up the electrode pads. J.A.R.V.I.S., you’ll run a changing current through them at random and we tell you when we can feel it.”
“What’s the catch?” Tony asked.
“I want to see whether we can feel it when the other person is being stimulated. Next test, I think, could include detecting and recognizing sounds over the headphones – to cancel out any unwanted noise. After that we’ll test optic input from the screens; to see whether we can see the thing the other person is seeing while our own screen is blank – and whether we perceive the images the same way – Rorschach style.”
“And if we are sharing a consciousness?” Tony prodded.
“Then we’ll have to figure out whether it’s temporary, fading or increasing – and what caused it,” Bruce said determinedly. He had enough problems handling his rage issues; add in Tony’s emotional rollercoaster he had gotten but a taste of, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it.
“Let’s do this,” Tony said, jumping up and disappearing into the other room.
Bruce took a deep breath and attached the electrode pads to places they had previously agreed on to receive similar sensations. Not that it would matter that much, but they had to be as accurate as possible. “Ready?” he asked out loud when he was done.
“When you are, Dr. Banner,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied at once.
“Let’s do this,” he mimicked Tony’s earlier statement and tried to ease the nervous flutter in the pit of his stomach.