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Del Rion [userpic]

Handling Pointy Things; Chapter 17: Offbeat

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.



~ ~ ~




Author’s notes: The final scene in bed is much inspired by this amazing piece of art (see it on Tumblr) by the talented Brilcrist.

Also, what Tony does with his arc reactors in this chapter (and possibly in the future of the series) is completely head-canon until someone tells me otherwise. (I believe he has a separate arc reactor in his newer suits, as might be apparent from most of the other parts in this series – we’ve kind of seen evidence of that in The Avengers when he powered up the suit before actually getting inside it.) The idea that he can tap into the one in his chest while in the suit is just something I thought to be a cool idea – and something ridiculously reckless in Tony’s usual style.





Chapter 17: Offbeat



The call to assemble came just as unexpectedly as always. This time all of the Avengers were currently at the Avengers Mansion, so all they had to do was suit up and wait for further instructions.

Tony had yet to put on his suit and he was currently watching Bruce change his clothes. They had been trying out new materials and designs for a pair of pants that might actually withstand the stretch in both directions of transformation, yet to actually endure the ensuing battle seemed to be the bigger issue. “We need to do further testing,” Tony noted as Bruce tugged up the newest prototype. “See how this version handles the heat. I’m kind of amazed you’re not running around naked most of the time.”

Bruce gave him a look, sliding on a shirt that was shortly going to become a lost cause – his chest and shoulders changed so much more than his hips, as Tony had come to notice. “While I appreciate the effort – and certainly the outcome – are you sure you’re not doing all these tests just to get more time with the other guy?” Bruce asked.

Bruce had taken the news of Tony’s minor cuddling with the Hulk just about as well as Tony had expected. The freak-out had been minimal and Tony had stood his ground, firmly; the other guy wasn’t going to hurt him and perhaps a little social interaction would help him cope with some of the triggers that made him unreliable and dangerous on the field.

“You think he’ll be less of a monster in the eyes of others if he’s seen being nice to you?” Bruce had asked.

“It can’t hurt,” Tony had replied.

Once he accepted that concept – not constantly arguing that his own feelings could possibly be influencing the other guy – Bruce switched tactics and began with wry teasing, implying that Tony had ulterior motives. The word ‘cheating’ hadn’t come up yet but Tony sensed it was on the tip of Bruce’s tongue – either seriously or laced with humor.

Bruce wasn’t one to admit that he and the Hulk were the same person – and Tony was pretty sure they were two separate beings, even if they shared the same flesh, sort of. However, Tony wouldn’t go as far as to call it ‘cheating’ and that’s why he hoped Bruce wouldn’t actually call it that either. Tony wanted to forge a friendship with their big, green teammate and part of him knew Bruce’s consent was essential for that to happen.

Now, Tony just rolled his eyes, not admitting he had ulterior motives of any kind. If he did, he certainly didn’t call them that.

“Did Steve say what it is we’re going to be fighting today?” Bruce moved on from the unanswered question.

“No,” Tony recalled, “but I’m pretty sure he implied we need the big guy.”

Bruce sighed heavily. That he was suiting up, sort of, meant that he was going to join them without an argument, but that didn’t mean he liked it. Tony decided that some positive reinforcement was in order and stepped over to the other man, laying one hand on the small of Bruce’s back, feeling his muscles beneath the thin t-shirt.

“Hey,” Tony breathed out, pressing close.

Bruce looked up at him, the tired expression of resignation vanishing; instead his face was alert even if his eyes were soft, body reacting to Tony’s proximity by relaxing slightly. Tony smiled, imagining that he could feel the other man’s body heat through the undersuit he already wore.

“We should go,” Bruce said finally but didn’t move a muscle in the direction of the door. “You know, in case more details of the mission arrive.”

“J.A.R.V.I.S. will let us know,” Tony replied, voice soft and low, intimate.

“There are no further details yet,” the AI offered, reacting to his words. “However, I am tracking several emergency calls and police channels; it would appear there is an attack of some kind in Chicago, Illinois. There may be lizards involved.”

“Lizards,” Tony raised an eyebrow. “Another mad scientist had a lab accident and released his own private petting zoo?”

“There is no actual data to confirm that assumption, sir, but that private petting zoo has already killed sixteen people – most of whom, according to first responders, look like victims of a shark attack.”

“Let’s go fishing, then,” Tony decided. “I’ll race the Quinjet to Chicago. Losers buy supper tonight.”

Bruce smiled – an expression which might have been seen as a grimace, but Tony knew better. “Is your armor shark-proof?”

“It has underwater capabilities, should they be needed, but I’m not actually considering taking on Jaws,” Tony mused, calculating the odds of such an encounter in his head. “I think my chances of survival would be pretty good,” he decided then. “I might even make you a necklace from all the teeth I collect.”

Bruce cringed. “I’m sure the other guy would appreciate such a gift… or Thor.”

“What, you don’t want to get a shark teeth necklace from me?” Tony tried to appear insulted and scandalized. “I will have you know, most people would be thrilled to carry such a token of my amazing heroics!”

“It’s just not my style,” Bruce offered, a genuine smile on his face this time, and no one in the universe – anyone in their right might, anyway – could blame Tony for pressing even closer to Bruce and kissing him. It wasn’t deep or dirty, or particularly wet, but he enjoyed the closeness, his hand still on the small of Bruce’s back and the other man’s hands slowly returned the favor, caressing his sides and falling down to his hips. It was no secret, really, that Bruce liked touching his ass.

“No shark teeth, then,” Tony murmured against Bruce’s lips after a while. “Might get you something else, though.”

“As long as they’re not souvenirs from the battlefield,” Bruce insisted and caught his lips one last time, almost insistently, before pulling back.

Tony made a note in some corner of his mind to make sure that he found something on the battlefield, one of these days, that Bruce would absolutely love to receive as a gift – just to prove him wrong.

Bruce led the way out of the room, Tony checking the news on his phone one last time, to make sure he hadn’t missed anything big. A steady stream of information was still coming in but it seemed no one had actually called S.H.I.E.L.D. to the scene – which meant they might have to deal with belligerent local authorities once they got to Chicago. Tony usually didn’t care about that if there was a job that needed to be done, but Rogers had a thing for cooperating with the locals and making things more difficult than they needed to be.

The others were already gathered in a room which they had dubbed as the ‘war room’. No one said anything when Tony and Bruce arrived, being smarter than that. Then again, Tony had noticed there had been fewer comments about their activities in general. It was too much to hope they would have just gotten used to him and Bruce being together, so Tony might have to investigate this new approach should it start troubling him.

For now, he was content to enjoy his man in peace.

“Stark, I thought I told everyone to suit up,” Rogers commented.

Tony really tried to bite back a remark. “I’ll already be half-way to Chicago before you’re done with your pre-flight check,” he noted. “What’s on the day’s menu?”

Rogers still didn’t look happy but Tony wasn’t here for his approval. “There’s something brewing in Chicago. Director Fury contacted me ten minutes ago with similar intel, although S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t officially involved. What is clear, however, is that people are dying, more are in danger and the local forces aren’t able to handle it.”

“You knew about it before Fury called you?” Tony frowned.

Rogers nodded – then flushed slightly, if possible. “I asked J.A.R.V.I.S. to monitor anything that might suggest a job for the Avengers. He said he’s already compiling such data for Iron Man, so…”

He should have known, but that his AI had alerted Rogers before Tony himself found out was something he was definitely going to talk to J.A.R.V.I.S. about as he flew to Chicago. For now, he didn’t bother saying anything since he had, more or less, offered his resources to help the Avengers – which seemed to include his AI.

“So, we don’t have any real idea of what is waiting for us in Chicago?” Barton clarified, checking his bow as he spoke.

“No,” Rogers admitted, “but there have been unsettling reports of –”

“Above-ground shark attacks,” Tony shot in. “Hundred bucks says a crazy scientist is involved.”

“No one’s going to bet against that,” Romanoff noted. “There’s always a scientist involved, and most of them are… well…” She didn’t finish, but gave Tony a pointed look.

“Hey!” Tony frowned. “He’s a scientist too,” he pointed at Bruce.

“We should get moving,” Rogers interrupted them before the argument could go on. “Stark, suit up.”

“Aye, aye, Captain,” Tony saluted him briskly then marched out to the armory.

“Stark,” Romanoff’s voice interrupted him before Tony could actually have the suit assembled, and he looked at her standing in the doorway.

“Did you forget something?” Tony asked. He had assumed the rest had already moved to the underground hangar and taken off.

“Pre-flight check,” she shrugged. Tony grinned. “There’s something I need to say to you,” she went on, wiping the expression from Tony’s face; nothing good could follow those words.

“Yeah?” Tony asked, stepping up to the slightly raised platform. Robotic arms shifted above and around him but remained still, seeing as he wasn’t yet in position to get into the suit.

Her eyes were hard as they met his. “I don’t know what you’re playing at, with the Hulk,” she started.

Tony instantly knew she meant the little scene in the destroyed lab. How much had she seen? How long had she stood there before the Hulk caught a whiff of her presence? “I’m not sure it’s any of your business,” Tony noted, voice hard.

“You may be able to get away with it when it comes to Banner,” Romanoff noted, “but the Hulk is a different matter entirely. You’re playing with fire, regardless of what you think you’re trying to achieve.”

“Just because he almost killed you once doesn’t mean the big guy hasn’t proven himself a member of this team,” Tony shot back, stepping down from platform. “He deserves a place among us, just like Bruce does.”

“And when it all blows up in your face?” Romanoff asked calmly, raising an eyebrow. “You’re being yourself, painfully so; biting off more than you can chew. Best case scenario is that you’ll end up hurting only one of their feelings – and that it will be Banner. Worst –”

“You think I’m trying to get into the Hulk’s pants?” Tony asked, putting it out there in case they weren’t on the same wavelength. Romanoff didn’t flinch, didn’t even blink, but Tony had seen her composure slip before, just slightly. She was nervous, and that she had sought out to talk to him about it proved it hadn’t been just his imagination either.

Tony kept meeting her silent, defiant look which revealed nothing and suggested detachment, although he knew she was feeling anything but detached right now. Certainly she wasn’t concerned for Tony’s life, but perhaps she wanted the Avengers to stay together – or thought that Tony’s actions would bring the Hulk’s wrath upon them all.

“I know what I’m doing,” Tony finally said, turning towards the platform again.

“That’s not enough,” she snapped. “You’re playing with the feelings of one of the strongest beings on Earth.”

“And what are you afraid will happen?” Tony asked, one foot raised to the platform as he twisted his body around to look at her. “That one day you’ll try to jab another needle in my neck and I’ll unleash the Hulk and make him finish the job?”

Romanoff’s face was stoic, as always, but Tony had seen how nervous she still got at the Hulk’s proximity. He guessed that had he been in her place on the Helicarrier… He sometimes regretted he hadn’t been there. Most likely he wouldn’t have been able to make a difference, but had that ever stopped him from trying?

“When that happens,” Romanoff finally stated, voice low to suggest that whatever came next was a threat, “S.H.I.E.L.D. won’t hesitate to step in to prevent things from escalating.”

“Is that Fury’s stand?” Tony asked, not backing down. “Or are you just assuming that’s what he’ll do?” Had she informed Fury of what she had seen, or was that a card she would play if she ever needed leverage against Tony? And, more importantly, what would Fury do if he found out?

Generally Tony wouldn’t have cared, but the Hulk was on top of many watch lists still, regardless of his cooperation with the Avengers, and he wasn’t stupid enough to think that his closeness with Bruce wasn’t making a lot of people nervous.

Romanoff didn’t reply, simply turned and disappeared down the hall towards the hangar.

“Sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up after a while. Tony blinked out of it, turning away from the doorway and stepping up to the platform.

“Keep an eye on Agent Romanoff’s communications,” he ordered.

“Yes, sir.”

Tony looked at the doorway as he spread his feet slightly and opened his arms, hearing the robotic arms coming to life. His eyes stared at the empty space Black Widow had vacated until the faceplate snapped down in front of his face and it was time to head off to fight another crazy villain.



Chicago, IL, USA

Chicago was going the whole nine yards when it came to bad guys creating chaos on the streets. Not only were there some kind of lizard-shark hybrids, which really liked chewing through anything in their path – preferably things with a pulse – but there was also a giant robot. The two probably weren’t related and Tony had no clue where either of them had come from in the first place. Hardly from the same lab, but who knew; mad scientists could be versatile, too.

“Stark, you’ve got the robot situation under control, right?” Rogers asked over the comm.

“Sure,” Tony replied, wondering how he had been saddled with the big piece of junk and everyone else got to tangle with the lizard-sharks. Well, he understood the logic since he should be able to shut this thing down in minutes and then join the others, and there were a lot of those shark-toothed reptiles running amok, endangering the civilian population.

“Tony…” Bruce started.

“Just let the big guy out to play,” Tony reassured him. “I’ll be with you guys in a flash.” He wasn’t sure why Bruce was concerned, but he also knew they needed to deal with the hybrids that had a now-established appetite for blood – and there was no way Bruce could ignore that threat.

“Just be careful,” Bruce told him.

“Couldn’t you have this talk in private?” Barton asked. “Besides, there are three of those lizard things climbing towards me so I think Iron Man’s pretty safe compared to the rest of us.”

“You heard the man,” Tony said, knowing Bruce was listening. “What is that tin-can going to do to me anyway? It’s probably some cheap knock-off of my tech and I’ll be digging through its circuit boards soon enough.”

Bruce didn’t reply, but not soon after a very Hulk-like roar rose in the distance, forcing Tony to deduce that the Hulk was finally on the scene and had found something to smash.

He turned his attention to the robot that was steadily proceeding towards the city center, creating chaos with each step as it stomped on cars and small structures alike. People were screaming and running for cover, the police trying to make a difference but failing completely; bullets didn’t do anything to the robot and Tony flew in closer to investigate, giving it a test-blast with one of the repulsors.

“The surface appears to be absorbing most of the blast,” J.A.R.V.I.S. noted.

“Scan it. Find a weak spot to tear through and break the exterior,” Tony followed the robot, waiting for J.A.R.V.I.S. to gather data. His eyes kept tracing every movement, looking for seams and joints – anything to exploit and make this quick and painless. It seemed, however, that the design was good at protecting the robot’s insides, although that made its movements clumsier and slower.

Tony fired at it again, just to see what it would do against missiles. The explosions went off as expected but the robot seemed unaffected. It did, however, stop and turn to look at him.

“No weak spots detected,” the AI announced.

“Let’s create some, then,” Tony noted, diving to the side and grabbing a wire that hung across the street. With a yank he tore one end free from a light post, the banner hanging from the wire flapping wildly in the air. The robot, clearly not seeing the danger, began to approach, and Tony weaved between its legs and then to the side. The wire tightened around one limb and Tony pulled, hard as he could.

For a moment it seemed the other light pole might snap in two, but the robot lost its balance before that, tipping to the side and then forward, crashing down with all its massive weight and zero grace. Letting go of the wire, Tony flew closer, giving it another taste of his weapons.

“Sir, the robot’s energy absorption is still operational. There is also a critical increase in its surface temperature.”

“Yeah?” Tony glanced at the readings on the HUD. “Let’s turn up the heat, then.” He switched controls and hovered still, aiming, then fired the chest RT. The light was blindingly beautiful, as always. He could feel the power thrum against his ribs, as if the arc reactor in his chest were participating. The beam of destructive force hit the robot square in the chest as the machine was attempting to roll onto its back – as if that would help it get up – and he saw the smooth surface beginning to change color to an almost ridiculous shade of red. At any moment it would begin to melt –

Warnings flashed before his eyes, almost blinding him.

“Sir, a backlash of energy is imminent.”

“Fuck,” Tony managed before the red glow on the robot’s surface slammed out, whiting out his vision and making the HUD blink out in order to protect his eyes.

Windows broke everywhere within a two-block radius. The streets directly in line with the robot were swept clean of everything that could be moved, pushing vehicles, stands, café furnishings and people aside as if they were garbage.

Tony, who had been hovering quite near by in the air, found himself flung back as the armor shut down in order to prevent any further damage – but instead of hitting the street below, he felt an immense pressure around his right leg before he was yanked to the side. The HUD came back on and gave him visual just before he met the nearest building, face first, smashing through the wall with a force that would have grinded bones to ashes. Inside the suit, he felt it and knew there were going to be a lot of bruises once this was over.

Before he could actually contemplate that further, he was already moving backwards, being swung through the air and across the street – only to be slammed backside-first into the opposite building. Alarms beeped around him as the suit powered up again, only to inform him that the damage was extensive. Tony thought he might be tasting blood.

The grip tightened, if possible, making metal groan around his leg. He was pulled back out of the building, no doubt to be smashed into the first one again, but the repulsors came back online just in time and he fired at what was holding him, to distract it or loosen its hold enough to slip free.

It was a hand, Tony noticed, once free of building structures and dust. The robot had grabbed him while still lying on the ground, determined to finish him off. Tony fired at it again, a yell escaping his lungs as if that would help – then he began to drop down, too fast for it to be only gravity. The hand was still holding him and smashed him down into the street, asphalt cracking under the force.

Before Tony could even calculate whether holding onto the ground might work or not, he was hoisted back up – only to be slammed down again.

“Sir, armor integrity is severely compromised. Immediate action to secure user safety is advisable.”

“I know!” Tony roared with actual pain as he hit the street again. He wasn’t just imagining the taste of blood anymore.

The next time he came up, he fired at the robot with all he had – or, to be more accurate, with any weapon that would respond. The motion to pulverize him briefly ceased and he furiously worked to override most of the alarms to gain access to the chest RT; it may not have worked last time, but that had never stopped him from trying again.

“Come on, you piece of junk,” he muttered. “J.A.R.V.I.S., I need the chest RT operational right now!”

“Armor arc reactor has taken damage and cannot maintain necessary charge long enough to fire,” J.A.R.V.I.S. informed him.

“Then access the chest piece,” Tony ordered.

“Sir, that is ill-advised. The suit has taken extensive damage and redirecting power from the chest arc reactor will compromise –”

“Do it!” Tony shouted as he was smashed back down again. “We’ll overload it. Its surface cannot withstand that much energy at once without overheating and causing internal damage.”

He felt mechanical parts moving against his chest. In the already constricted pace, it felt like something was trying to push into him – which was exactly what was happening, technically. This was a failsafe when all else failed; the armor’s own arc reactor was almost burnt out and while it still functioned, it couldn’t deliver he blow he needed. The arc in his chest, however, could deliver the extra kick and once the suit connected with it, Tony literally felt the charge going through his chest cavity.

The HUD blinked, either from the damage or the new burst of power. Tony took a deep breath, prepped the chest RT and once he was in position, he let ’er rip. The sensation was intense and he swore he could feel the impact as the repulsor ray hit its target, the robot twisting slightly, mechanical fingers moving, their hold slipping, and this time there was no backlash of energy.

Tony fell again, hard, but this time it was only gravity that took him down and not the robot’s grip. The HUD was flickering and J.A.R.V.I.S.’s voice distorted and vanished. Tony knew he had to get out of the suit, to disconnect the arc reactor in his chest from the armor before it shorted out.

Manual armor release was another failsafe and he soon remembered why he was so keen on not having to do it himself. He tugged off the gloves, then the pieces around his arms, going for the chest next. Tony let out a pained gasp when the chest plate finally released the arc reactor and he could breathe properly again, heart thrumming and cold sweat covering his skin.

Struggling out of the rest of the armor, he cringed as he went to remove the right leg’s pieces; they were bent and broken, showing where the mechanical fingers had maintained their hold. The repulsor in his boot was spitting sparks, burning his fingers as he attempted to bend some of the pieces of metal into a better position so that he could push them off.

Tony looked up briefly, checking his surroundings. The streets were deserted; the robot lay quietly on the ground; the sounds of battle against the lizard-sharks were almost too distant to hear.

Focusing back on the task at hand, Tony finally managed to wriggle enough to pull his leg free of the last piece of armor. After that was done, he lay down for a moment, feeling out of sorts. It was entirely possible he had a concussion and hooking up his chest arc reactor to the suit hadn’t been the best idea he’d ever had. It had done the trick, though, and he could work on making the connection a bit more stable in the future. For the time being, he needed to get in contact with his team, haul the armor back to New York City and find an ice pack or three.

Rubble and metal whined somewhere beside him as a heavy mass shifted.

Tony’s eyes shot open and he was up on his feet so fast he almost fell back down from the sheer shock of it. There wasn’t time, however, as the robot started moving, slowly rolling to its front, then to its knees, and it was only a matter of time before it would try to get back to its feet. Either it was self-repairing or Tony had just knocked it out while almost frying his own insides.

The robot seemed disoriented, attempting to balance itself, then finally its glowing eyes landed on him. Tony swallowed, taking a step back. There was no way he would get any piece of his armor working in time, the arc reactor in his chest already feeling like it needed to be recalibrated and his body going into mild shock from the beating he had just received.

All he could do, really, was to dodge the hand when it started moving towards him, evading it to the best of his ability until he got outside its range. He needed to get in contact with one of the Avengers; the Hulk or Thor could take this thing down.

The sound of sirens cut through the air and a lone police car curved around a building, stopping at the nearest intersection when it noticed the giant robot on all fours on the ground. Tony felt like shouting at them to stop gawking and get the hell out, but before he could even open his mouth, his body was hit by what felt like a wall of steel; the robot hand smacked him like he was a fly, sending him flying.

His back slammed painfully against the roof of the police car, the momentum carrying him across the smooth surface and over it until he dropped to the ground behind the vehicle. Tony’s world zoomed in and out; he saw boots, two pairs of feet, then they were gone. He couldn’t hear a thing, ears ringing as his head felt like it had been stuffed full of cotton wool until all coherent thoughts were pushed out.

While his eyes worked, any message trying to get through was getting blocked by his brain and not traveling to the rest of his body; from the narrow space beneath the police car, he saw the robot moving, struggling to rise to its feet again. In a matter of moments it would achieve its goal, start walking and possibly crush him like a bug under its weight.

Tony realized, belatedly, that it might have been smarter to stay in the suit even if it was broken beyond repair; it would have sheltered him better than lying here like a broken toy.

A giant foot was placed firmly on the ground, then another. The hands disappeared from his line of sight. Tony felt the tremors of the first step the robot took.

He wondered whether he might survive this if he lay really still and quiet – although that never seemed to work for anyone in the movies. Maybe because they were always breathing so loud and Tony felt like he couldn’t breathe at all –

The familiar roar of the Hulk was followed by the sound of metal being forcefully torn apart. Tony usually associated the sound with someone trying to dig their way through his armor so he didn’t actually enjoy it, but he did feel a rush of relief when the giant robot’s head suddenly landed in the middle of the intersection, rolling around before lying still, the glowing eyes dark and sparks spitting around broken cables and wires until they too were drained of power.

Tony looked at it, feeling strangely peaceful now that the danger had passed.

That meant he almost pissed his pants when the police car suddenly went flying, swept clear off the ground as if it was a toy car. For an instant Tony envisioned the headless robot above him, ready to finish the job, but instead he saw a pair of green eyes and a large set of powerful shoulders.

The Hulk huffed, stepping closer, then crouched down. “Tony hurt,” he stated.

“Just a little… banged up,” Tony managed.

Another huff followed and one large hand hovered over his body, staying still as if contemplating whether to touch him or not. Tony reached up for it, curling his fingers around two larger ones – were they the ones he had been holding just a day before?

The Hulk looked at him, appearing unconvinced by Tony’s declaration about the seriousness of his injuries.

“Did you smash all the lizards?” Tony asked.

“Hulk smashed ugly teeth,” the rage monster announced with a wide grin then glanced down at his arm. Tony looked up from the fingers he was holding and could see several holes in the Hulk’s forearm. They were healing, no longer bleeding, but clearly those things had had a nasty bite.

“Are the others okay?” Tony asked. “You can go back and smash the rest of the lizards –”

“Shellhead broken,” the Hulk interrupted him then pulled back his hand – not hard enough to yank his fingers free of Tony’s grasp, but as if testing whether he would follow the movement. Tony tried, sitting up slowly, then winced at the pain both in his back and chest. The fact that he couldn’t feel any pain in his right leg was probably an indication of injuries as well, although he wasn’t going to lament it right now.

“I think I… need a moment,” Tony finally managed, placing his left hand across the arc reactor. His chest was on fire now and it felt like his heart was going to give in at any moment. He actually had to remove his hand and make sure the familiar blue glow was still there because it felt like he was dying in small bursts.

The Hulk remained still, but he was never one for patience and tugged on Tony’s hand again, the green fingers twitching slightly in his hold. “Up,” the Hulk demanded, standing himself, and Tony attempted to follow. He got mostly upright before his right leg buckled beneath him, as if completely asleep; it didn’t hurt but he could tell the robot’s grip on it had caused some damage.

A big, green hand caught him, steadying him carefully. The Hulk’s touch was too gentle at first, almost allowing him to slip back to the ground, but the fingers soon tightened and held him more securely.

“Can you walk?” the Hulk asked – the sentence perfectly clear in the midst of all the broken ones they were so used to hearing. If Tony’s mind had been working at half its usual capacity, he would have already tried to find a reason for that – lack of practice, perhaps. With whom had the Hulk ever had a chance to talk? People who were shooting at him?

“Sorry, buddy,” Tony forced a faint smile, his weight pretty much completely in the Hulk’s hand. He released the fingers he had been holding and tried to steady himself instead, to gain some control over his disoriented body. “Maybe I could just lie back down? It’s not so bad, really, if you sweep away the rubble…”

Instead of lying him back down, the Hulk carefully scooped him up. If Tony hadn’t been so worn out and out of it, not to mention the pain that came back in a brief wave before slowly retreating again, he might have protested. As it was, he pressed his head against the firm shoulder, smelling battle and the Hulk’s own scent on the green skin.

“Safe,” the Hulk murmured, the sound rumbling in his chest. Tony could feel the vibrations against his cheek and smiled at it, closing his eyes.

There was something he should remember, though… “The suit…. Can’t leave the armor, okay, big guy? Someone might steal it, and I can’t…”

“Hulk protects the suit,” the Hulk agreed. “Hulk smashes robbers.”

Tony decided he couldn’t have assigned a better guard dog and allowed his mind to drift off, just a little bit.

- - -

“Stark!”

Tony snapped out of it so violently it felt like his head had been severed from his neck and would roll off his shoulders at any given moment. He felt comfortable for about two seconds before the slow burn started in his chest, stabbing needles at his insides, and he had one of the worst non-alcohol-related headaches of his life.

Since becoming Iron Man, he’d had a lot of the alcohol-related ones, so he had something to compare it to.

“Tony.”

He looked to the right, finding the Avengers gathered at his side. They looked worried and he wondered what their problem was. Then the Hulk growled and Tony realized what may have been happening while he was dozing. “How long was I out?” he asked.

“It’s good to know you’re napping out here while we’re busting our asses,” Barton noted sharply but the concerned note in his voice reduced the edginess to a weak remark.

“Are you well?” Thor asked, stepping forward. The Hulk let out another growl and the Asgardian stopped his approach.

“Did we win?” Tony asked.

“Of course we did,” Barton replied.

“How badly are you injured?” Rogers asked then, shield on his arm as if he were expecting to fight the Hulk if need be, in order to help Tony – which was all kinds of fucked up.

“It’s… manageable,” Tony offered. “I just need to catch a ride back to the Mansion with you guys since my suit took a bit of a beating.”

No one commented on the pile of gold and red scrap metal the Hulk was standing near.

“Hawkeye, get the Quinjet,” Rogers ordered. “Hulk,” he went on a bit less certainly, “can you lay Tony down so that we can make sure he’s not bleeding?”

“Not bleeding, but it’s fine,” Tony reassured them both, patting the green arm. “Just put me down.”

The Hulk slowly bent down and rested him carefully on the street. Tony hissed, recalling why slamming into solid objects wasn’t good for your health – especially when outside the suit.

Rogers approached slowly, keeping his eyes on the Hulk, but when the rage monster didn’t move to defend Tony, he knelt down beside him. “You should have called for back-up,” he said, voice tense.

“I was doing fine on my own,” Tony defended himself.

The Hulk let out such a mighty huff of protest that he didn’t bother to finish. Also, Rogers’ expression said it all but the man only let out a disappointed sigh – which was almost worse than any comment he may have made – and slid his shield off his arm and strapped it to his back. “Where are you hurt?”

“It can wait until we get back,” Tony informed him tersely.

“You can’t even stand,” their leader snapped back.

“I’m not bleeding to death –”

“There’s blood all over your face!”

Tony blinked then frowned, moving one hand up to his face. It didn’t hurt – not worse than most other places on his body – but he felt something on his skin; dried and disgusting. He guessed he might as well take Rogers’ word for it since he wasn’t able to see for himself. “I would say it’s not mine, but I’m pretty sure it is.”

Rogers let out another deep, tired sigh. “You think?”

“I said I’m pretty sure,” Tony frowned. Yeah, he could definitely feel something sticking to his skin, pulling on it the wrong way.

“Not too much smell of blood,” the Hulk declared and Tony took that as a win.

Rogers looked up at the words, seemed to come to the same conclusion, then looked sharply at Tony. “If you bleed to death on the flight back, I’ll have them carve ‘he was pretty sure’ on your tombstone.”

Tony grinned – then grimaced at another sensation of his skin being pulled the wrong way and decided on no facial expressions until he got his face cleaned up.

- - -

The flight back was quiet. Thor and Rogers had carried the pieces of the armor into the Quinjet while the Hulk refused to let anyone else carry Tony – who still couldn’t actually stay on his own two feet. Tony didn’t quite sleep on the plane but hovered instead on the far edge of consciousness, trying to tune out the pain which mostly radiated around his chest cavity.

They were half-way back before the Hulk stomped over to a far corner of the Quinjet and Bruce emerged some fifteen minutes later, dirty but whole. No shark-teeth bite marks anywhere.

“Jesus, Tony,” was the only thing he said, in a near whisper, and sat next to his head on the bench Tony was lying on.

“It’s not as bad as it looks – and you should see the villain,” Tony tried.

“You didn’t destroy the robot,” Bruce deadpanned.

“I didn’t?” Tony arched an eyebrow – and was reminded why he was still in the no-expressions zone.

“The other guy did,” Bruce murmured.

How Bruce knew that, Tony wanted to find out. Just… not right that instant.

With Bruce’s comfortably warm hand on his face, Tony allowed his mind to drift a bit further back. He wouldn’t readily admit it was because he felt safe, should anyone ask, but it felt good to just lie back and feel the slight circling caresses of Bruce’s thumb on his skin – even with all the dried blood still there.

- - -

“Am I doing this right?”

“Yes, Dr. Banner. It won’t take long,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.

Tony just blinked slowly, listening to the discussion but not participating, trying to breathe through it. Wires were attached to his chest – to the arc reactor – trying to stabilize its energy output that the suit had disrupted and calibrate it back to normal functions again.

It wasn’t damaged – just needed a little fine tuning – something both he and J.A.R.V.I.S. had repeatedly explained to a rather concerned Bruce Banner.

The pain was lessening, replaced by an uncomfortable feeling which had more to do with bad memories about wires in his chest than actual discomfort from the procedure. Tony was dressed in shorts and nothing more, the blood scrubbed from his skin and injuries tended to. There were ice packs waiting in his room, Bruce had said, once this was taken care of. They would turn in after this and Tony would sleep for the next twelve hours at least.

Bruce’s hand touched his chest carefully, circling the wires as if to check for anything that might compromise the delicate process. Tony forced himself to shift his head, to look at him, and Bruce’s other hand moved to his neck, tracing his pulse point before he leaned in and kissed Tony.

It was desperate, in a sense; close-lipped and with a lot of pressure, brief and insistent yet returning almost immediately afterwards to re-connect and reassure them both that they were still here and alive.

“You need to talk to Steve once this is done,” Bruce said finally, drawing back.

“I thought we were going to bed after this,” Tony said – and for once he was expecting nothing but sleep and comfort from his bedroom and its possible other occupant.

“You need to tell him this wasn’t his fault,” Bruce went on as if Tony hadn’t spoken.

“How is this his fault?” Tony frowned. He was out of it, he could admit that, but Bruce wasn’t making any sense.

The scientist gave him a hard look that brooked no argument. “He made the decision to send you out alone after the robot. You almost got killed.”

“I wasn’t even close to dying,” Tony insisted then shut his mouth so fast he almost bit his tongue when Bruce’s hand – the one still on his neck – tightened painfully. The brown eyes flashed with green and Tony could almost see the beast staring at him.

“Don’t lie to me,” Bruce ground out, almost as if it pained him, then forced his hand to let go and retreat from Tony’s neck. His eyes, once again brown, looked at the spot his fingers had squeezed the hardest and Tony wondered if he saw bruises forming there already, for his expression was quite horrified. However, Bruce didn’t pull back, which was saying something.

“Okay, I admit it could have gone batter. A lot better,” Tony said slowly, carefully. This was the side of Bruce he didn’t get to see often – the explosive nature that had a hair-trigger on the Hulk’s temper and power without an actual transformation. If he said the wrong thing, recalibrating his arc reactor might be the least of his worries. “If I’d had time to react, I would have called one of you to help me. As it was, I was being smashed into buildings and… I screwed up, okay?” he finally said, and that seemed to do the trick, for Bruce’s shoulders sagged in relief immediately. “I should have seen I needed back-up but I thought I could handle it anyway, because that’s what I always do. I don’t need help from anyone and…”

“Just tell Steve that he made the right choice and that you’re going to be okay,” Bruce relented, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes.

Tony noticed the hand on his chest had never moved – never tightened, despite it being so much closer to what could actually kill him. Well, choking was bad for one’s health, too, as was a broken neck, but somehow Tony didn’t even let those two into the same ballpark with the arc reactor-related dangers.

He lifted one hand and laid it across Bruce’s on his chest. “I promise I’ll remind our fearless leader of my shortcomings as a team member.”

Bruce’s eyes opened long enough to narrow at him, then he gave him a sharp nod as if knowing that was as good as it was going to get.

“Recalibration complete, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced.

“Okay,” Tony nodded, moving his hand but Bruce beat him to it, slowly and carefully disconnecting the wires then rotated and locked the arc reactor back in place. It was all done with such careful precision and loving attention that Tony could only look at the other man and blink stupidly at the shirt that was offered to him a minute later.

Bruce gave him half a smile, slid a hand through Tony’s hair then put the shirt on the table. “Can you walk?”

Tony shifted to the edge of the table then slowly lowered himself to the floor. His legs held out, although the right one was heavily bruised already. Most of his muscles protested as he took his first step but Bruce allowed him to do it, following behind him and shutting down the equipment as they went.

The mansion was quiet around them as they moved across it, yet Rogers was in the kitchen, making himself something to eat. His face was blank, eyes distant and it looked like he was mechanically trying to feed himself instead of actually being interested in it.

“Cap?” Tony called out, recalling Bruce’s rather forceful request. “Can I…?”

Rogers looked up so fast it was almost comical. “Do you need something?”

“I need to tell you it wasn’t your fault,” Tony said. That was easy, he could do that. “Sending me, on my own, to deal with the robot wasn’t a bad call.”

Rogers nodded rigidly but his expression didn’t change.

Tony was keenly aware of Bruce standing beside him, a quiet presence of suppressed concern and anger. Giving Rogers his full attention, Tony cleared his throat. “I should have asked for back-up. This whole hassle could have been avoided but I thought I had things under control – until they weren’t, obviously. Just for the record, this doesn’t happen every –”

There was no growl, no shift, no movement, but Tony was certain Bruce was disapproving so he shut up and just sort of shrugged at Rogers.

The super-soldier didn’t relax but his eyes seemed to come back to life. “We need to work on that. I can’t… The team can’t handle one of its members almost losing their lives on every mission.” It was his round-about way of saying that he felt responsible, that he couldn’t cope with it, and that Tony had better work on staying alive.

Tony nodded. “Understood.” He glanced at Bruce then: “Now, can we go to bed?”

The scientist rolled his eyes, just a little, but headed towards Tony’s rooms and Tony gladly followed him, slowly and painfully but very much alive.

- - -

Instead of twelve hours, Tony slept for almost a day. Far as he knew, in between sleeping, waking up, drinking water, swallowing painkillers and taking a piss, Bruce stayed with him during the first ten. After that the man was a reoccurring presence beside him, sometimes there, sometimes not, but Tony was at peace since J.A.R.V.I.S. let him know about Bruce’s whereabouts every time he woke up to find the man missing – no doubt something the scientist had told the AI to do.

He felt remarkably more alive after a good bout of unconsciousness and rest. Sure, the bruises were in full bloom now and would remind him of his mortality for days to come, but he had dealt with that before and it just drove him to re-invent the suit, time and time again.

Next time there was a giant robot, he would take it down or at least withstand being repeatedly slammed into solid surfaces.

It was the day after their return from Chicago when Tony teetered between getting out of bed or rolling over and going back to sleep. Bruce was currently making his way back to his room, according to J.A.R.V.I.S., and Tony was determined to see him and hear what he was up to before making a decision.

Bruce entered quietly, like he always did, smiling at Tony. He was wearing one of those purple button-down shirts which reminded Tony of the first time they’d met on the Helicarrier. Where Bruce kept finding them, he had no idea, but he always seemed to have one of them lying around. Tony didn’t mind; it was a reminder of one of the most meaningful encounters of his life, and he might even go as far as to say that he had changed Bruce’s life that day, by influencing him to join the Avengers in battle.

“Feeling better?” Bruce asked, voice low. Tony wasn’t sure what time it was but Bruce looked tired.

“Yeah,” Tony admitted.

The other man stopped by the bed and Tony stared back at him, feeling relaxed and rather serene. A smile flitted across Bruce’s face again and he started unbuttoning his shirt. Tony reached out to him, grabbing onto the edge of his pants and dragged him over, onto the bed.

Bruce shifted his weight so as to not land on him, straddling Tony’s legs as he caught himself. The glasses were still perched on his nose and Tony carefully reached for them, folding them and placing them carefully on the pillow next to his, not bothering to try to see if he could reach the nightstand in his current position.

Above him, Bruce resumed unbuttoning his shirt, then eventually tugged it off and threw it in the direction of the glasses. Tony heard the whisper of fabric settling down, landing and remaining there. He didn’t care about the shirt; he cared about reassuring this man here that he was okay, that they were going to be okay, and that nothing was going to happen even if Tony had the tendency to over-reach and then fall hard.

Bruce leaned forward, placing his hands on either side of Tony’s shoulders, close enough to touch his skin. Tony reached out with his right hand, lifting Bruce’s left one and pulling it up to his face. The fingers curled along his jaw, traveling down, then Tony tilted his head to kiss them softly, inhaling the scent of his lover and closing his eyes to simply sense his proximity.

“I hate it when you do that,” Bruce murmured.

Tony opened his eyes, trying to see the answer to his obvious question on the other man’s face. “Do what?”

“Manage to look so frail,” Bruce went on, “while I know you’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. It makes me want to…”

“Hey,” Tony reached up with his left hand, touching Bruce’s face. “I’m every bit as strong as you think I am. And if that’s not enough, some days, you and the other guy are there to back me up.”

“We might not always be there,” Bruce mused.

“Are you planning on going somewhere?”

Bruce blinked then lowered himself, angling to the side so that he lay next to Tony more than on top of him. His hand moved to Tony’s face again even while Tony’s hand still held onto it, while Bruce’s other arm moved the glasses and the shirt out of the way so he could properly lie down.

Tony looked at him, his smile sickeningly genuine but he had no reason to hide it. “Thought so,” he answered his own question and rolled slightly to the side, to press further against the other man. Aches and all, this was so much better than any other alternative.





to be continued…


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