Title: Kiss of Life
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Genre: Action, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Tony Stark (Iron Man). (J.A.R.V.I.S. and James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine) mentioned.)
Summary: Bruce and Tony come under attack while en route to deliver one of Tony’s latest projects. In order to protect his friend, Bruce refuses to let the Hulk out, which ends in blood, pain and the kiss of life – although it really isn’t a kiss, no matter what Tony says.
Written for: Quasar (quasar273 at LJ) during Avengers Fest (avengersfest) 2014.
Warnings: Canonical violence & injuries, language, mild M/M sexual content (kissing).
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Louis Leterrier, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Universal Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)
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.
Kiss of Life
From the moment they shook hands, Bruce knew Tony Stark was a bad influence on him.
Bruce should have envied and resented Tony for his success. He should have hated Tony’s carelessness around the beast that lurked within Bruce and the intentional testing of his limits since day one, but it was the reckless fearlessness and utter faith in the idea that the Hulk could do good that kept Bruce under Tony’s wing.
That was also how he ended up in a cargo van speeding down a side road with a hostile aircraft trailing behind them.
Bruce was squeezing the edge of his seat with one hand and the handle of the door with another, knuckles white. Tony had an equally tight grip on the steering wheel as his foot pressed heavily on the gas pedal, eyes trained on the road ahead of them when he wasn’t darting glances at the mirrors to see what the aircraft was doing.
It looked like a modified Quinjet, which narrowed down the list of suspects inside. So far, there had been no announcement regarding their assailants’ intentions, which was atypical.
“What do you think they want?” Bruce asked tensely as they neared another curve in the road, dreading each time that the van was going to flip over and they would be slammed into the trees lining the road. He wasn’t afraid of dying, but he dreaded the pain like any living organism capable of feeling it – and there was also the knowledge that he would not be able to control the Hulk if it came to that.
“No idea,” Tony answered tensely. “Should we stop and ask?” He shot Bruce the briefest of looks before returning his eyes to the road.
There had been warning shots fired at them a few miles back, and now it felt like they were just being toyed with by their weaponized, flying tailgater.
“What are we transporting?” Bruce asked. Tony hadn’t been specific about that when they left, merely offering Bruce the chance of a road trip.
“A water purifier prototype I designed for communities suffering from the side-effects of fracking,” Tony replied, taking them through another curve in one piece. “Somehow I doubt these people are from the gas company or fracking opposers.”
Bruce nodded. “You are certain there is nothing else?”
“Nothing but us.”
‘Us’ was enough for plenty of people.
“Crap,” Tony swore and swerved, just as a pulse from an energy weapon hit the road where their left front tire had just been. The van kept teetering from one side to another, the tires losing traction as the weight of the vehicle began to gather momentum towards the inevitable fall to its side.
Bruce braced himself and pressed his jaw firmly shut, his eyes seeking Tony instead of the instinctive urge to look outside. His gut twisted in discomfort as the van began to tilt dangerously to the right, the left side’s wheels leaving the road.
He heard Tony’s sharp breath, acknowledging the danger and succumbing to the fact that the car was going to roll over no matter what he did. His fingers flexed on the steering wheel, seeking purchase more than for the control he no longer had, back ramrod straight against the driver’s seat.
It only took a few seconds, but Bruce had long ago learned to focus his mind when all his brain wanted to do was shut down under the onslaught of information: he stilled his breathing and let in the small details flying by him, too brief to truly register but leaving a faint imprint on his memory nonetheless.
The van fell on its right side with a crash, sliding before hitting a bump –a fence or a tree stump – which sent the vehicle spinning onto its roof and over to its other side. Metal complained and twisted. The windshield cracked and bent inwards on the verge of collapse. The window by Bruce’s face grew an intricate spider web pattern while the one on the driver’s side exploded inwards, showering them both in small fragments of glass as the car flipped again and then stilled at an awkward angle between its bottom and right side, leaving Bruce’s weight pressed against the door.
Tony grunted, gravity pulling him against the seatbelt. His feet moved, searching for something to brace himself against and take the weight off his waist and chest, and it registered to Bruce that it was a good sign that he was moving and not caught in the wreck of metal.
“Sure do wish I was in my suit right now,” Tony wheezed, one hand bracing itself against the dashboard while the fingers of the other curled around the seatbelt, the pressure clearly making him uncomfortable.
Tony was talking, which was good. Bruce had been hoping for ‘conscious’, but this was infinitely better.
Seeing as he was in the better position, Bruce managed to wrangle his seatbelt free, body falling a few inches before he rolled and moved to help Tony, trying to take some of his weight on his shoulders in order to get the seatbelt open.
Tony braced his arms on Bruce’s body, legs seeking purchase on the dashboard and the steering wheel. He was shaking, possibly with adrenaline, but they were both miraculously unscathed, taking into consideration the speed with which they had crashed.
“Just a bit more,” Bruce grunted, fingers around the seatbelt’s lock, his right foot fighting not to slip on the broken glass he was standing on.
He heard Tony brace himself, his hands shifting, fingers digging into the muscles of Bruce’s shoulders and back – and then the wreck of the van shot forward, the belated sound of an explosion blinding Bruce’s senses. His vision split with red and green, his body burning to transform, and he must have lost several seconds of consciousness before he grew aware of his surroundings again, shoving back the pain and the impending change, lifting his face off the asphalt on which he had suddenly ended up lying.
The wreck of the van was smoking, resting about twenty feet from him. There was glass all over the roadside and the asphalt, and Bruce guessed the impact had sent him flying through the cracked windshield. He couldn’t see Tony anywhere, and part of him prayed the other man was still inside, protected by the questionable structure of the vehicle.
Above them, the enemy aircraft hovered, no doubt ready to fire on them again.
The red in Bruce’s vision was being overtaken by black spots while a steady sheen of green remained. His body felt like it had just been put through a grinder, every breath hurting anything even remotely attached to his lungs.
It would have been easy to let the other guy take over; to unleash the Hulk and have him deal with the pain he was in and take down their enemies with the rage that was building up. That rage would drown out everything, however – including the thought that he needed to get to Tony.
Struggling up to his hands and knees, Bruce began crawling through the scattered debris of glass, metal, dirt, moss and wood, keeping one eye on the still-present enemy aircraft, wondering what they were waiting for. If they knew whom they were attacking, it was better they start shooting now than wait for the Hulk to make an appearance – although if they began shooting, Bruce knew he wouldn’t be able to stay in control. Maybe that was why they didn’t fire again.
He was roughly ten feet from the wreckage of the van when he caught his first glimpse of Tony, lying in an unmoving heap inside the cockpit of the upturned van. Either the seatbelt had given in or he had managed to get free, but it didn’t look like he was conscious anymore.
The air suddenly stirred around him as the aircraft began to descend, landing gingerly on the narrow road. Two men dropped out, large weapons in their hands, shattered glass crunching under heavy boots. Bruce looked at them, waiting for some kind of recognition on their part, but all he got was a dispassionate stare as one of the men aimed his gun at him.
Bruce fully expected some kind of demand or at least an opening dialogue for the purpose of the attack, but instead of declaring their intentions, the man pointing the gun at him fired. The weapon barely made a sound, but the explosion of hot pain Bruce felt piercing his right thigh an instant later was quite real, the suddenness of it making him holler in pain and sag into the asphalt to take his weight off the wounded limb.
Green tinted his vision stronger than before, no doubt spreading onto his skin, but the men resumed walking, moving past him and towards the van, not looking back. Bruce felt his breaths grow erratic, pain radiating from his leg, nigh unbearable. To focus on anything else, Bruce manically fixed his gaze on the men as he reached down to squeeze at the wound, hoping against all hope that it would stop bleeding all over the road.
“Check him,” the other man said to the shooter as they approached the vehicle’s cockpit.
Tony still wasn’t moving, confirming Bruce’s suspicion that he was out cold.
The beast roared in his mind, hammering to be let out, but Bruce forced himself to focus on what he had intended to do in the first place: get to Tony, to make sure he was safe. We have to save him! he told the monster, unsure whether he could communicate the importance of that plea to the Hulk, but if there had ever been a time for the other guy to cooperate, this was it.
One of the men knelt by the opening left by the shattered windshield, his weapon casually cradled in the crook of his arm. He reached in, touching Tony’s neck, then glanced at his partner. “He’s alive.”
The other nodded and shifted his weapon. “I’ll confirm whether mission control wants him alive after all.” He turned and walked back to the aircraft, not even looking at Bruce as he passed him.
At that moment, Bruce was certain these people didn’t know he was the Hulk. They didn’t care about him, either: Tony had been their target – dead rather than alive – but they were clearly uncertain on their orders and Bruce was going to seize the opportunity he had been given.
With what had to be a mix of adrenaline and pure willpower – and possibly a healthy boost from the other guy – Bruce got up to his feet. It happened so fast he didn’t even register any pain, his leg momentarily numb even with blood running down his skin, wetting the leg of his pants.
He took a step towards the van, then another – each motion pushing a wave of heat through his body that simultaneously kept the pain from registering in his brain.
The man who had shot him was still crouched by the cockpit, keeping an eye on Tony, and Bruce didn’t warm him as he approached him from behind, hands grabbing his head in a shaky yet unyielding grip. The man jerked, trying to get up, but Bruce kept his hold and twisted hard – with strength he only possessed in times of great need – and heard an audible snap.
He had never killed anyone like that…
No time, a voice chanted in his head, and he bowed down, careful not to bend his right leg as he reached for the weapon in the dead man’s arms, releasing it from his grip with firm fingers. It felt heavy and cold and Bruce wanted nothing more than to get rid of it, but it was not safe yet.
“What the –”
Bruce whirled around, body barely under his control, and fired two shots; the first hit the aircraft’s windshield, the second taking down the man who had gone back to it to report to their base. He watched as the man jerked and then fell down in an uncoordinated heap, eyes wide open, realizing his mistake in dismissing Bruce the first time.
With increasing unsteadiness in his breaths, Bruce waited. He knew there had to be a pilot inside the aircraft, but he wasn’t coming out or lifting off – or firing weapons at him. Knowing that he had to be sure, Bruce slowly began walking towards the plane, gun held up, barrel pointed at the aircraft, finger on the trigger. He sidled past the dead man, trying not to look at him, then peered inside the aircraft’s cockpit.
The pilot was still as the dead in his seat, and Bruce realized his first shot, which he’d thought was a miss, had actually hit the pilot; it wasn’t a shot he could have made had he actually tried.
Seeing as the threats had been eliminated, he promptly dropped the weapon and turned back towards the van – then thought better of it and veered back towards the aircraft, looking inside.
Bruce located the mandatory first aid kit behind the pilot’s seat and pulled it out, carrying it back to the van with him. It was only a matter of seconds before he wouldn’t be able to move at all and he needed to make his leg stop bleeding all over the damn place.
It would have been so much easier to let the other guy take over…
He made it back to the van, lowered himself to the ground, and shoved away the body of his dead shooter before digging into the med kit to find an adequately strong strip of gauze. He wrapped it above the gunshot wound to control the bleeding, the pain making him moan out loud. Since he hadn’t bled to death yet, the bullet must have missed any large veins – or his gamma-related healing factor had kicked in. Either way, it still hurt, and he blinked back tears as he finished tying up the makeshift tourniquet.
Allowing himself a minute to clear his head, he focused on taking deep breaths and busied himself by cleaning his hands with disinfectant wipes he found in the med kit. He packed it back up, stowed it safely away, and turned towards the cockpit of the van, inching closer to Tony’s unmoving body.
“Tony?” he called out and pulled himself closer, tentatively testing the other man’s neck for a pulse – which he found – then checked to see whether Tony was pinned down by the wreckage. He wasn’t, so Bruce proceeded to pull him out into the open, working slowly in case there were any hidden injuries.
There were plenty of bleeding scrapes on just about every part of Tony’s body, making Bruce worry about his own cuts and bruises; he couldn’t afford to get any of his blood on Tony, but he couldn’t leave him lying in the wreck of the van, either – especially when he noticed the paleness of Tony’s face.
Bruce leaned down to place his ear over Tony’s mouth and nose, watching his chest rise and fall. It did not take long for him to determine that Tony wasn’t breathing properly.
“Tony,” he called out again, tapping his face with his fingers, hoping to wake him up. “Come on, don’t do this to me,” he murmured, patting his face again, then stopped, knowing that the other man could be suffering from a concussion or internal bleeding after the crash.
He hesitated, not knowing what the issue might be: collapsed lung, cracked or broken ribs, something stuck in his airway, liquid building up around his organs…?
Tony’s lips lacked color and seemed to grow paler as Bruce looked at them intently for several seconds. After a brief debate, Bruce leaned forward and gently aligned Tony’s head, then manipulated his jaw to open his mouth, pinched his nose shut and placed his lips to those of the unconscious man, exhaling air into his lungs. He repeated it a few times, drawing as much air into his own lungs as he could, hoping it would be enough to at least give him an idea of what to do next.
He was on his fifth exhale when Tony’s lips quivered and his tongue swept up against Bruce’s upper lip before Tony coughed and groaned. Bruce pulled back, relief flooding him as Tony blinked up at him. The sight was oddly familiar although he could not place it – then the other guy rumbled inside him, satisfied, and Bruce had an idea where he may have gotten the sense of déjà vu from.
Tony frowned. “Did you just kiss me?” he asked, voice scratchy.
Bruce felt like rolling his eyes, but instead he felt a flush spread over his skin like an indicator of guilt. “It’s called ‘artificial respiration’,” he answered. “You weren’t breathing properly.”
“The kiss of life.” Tony’s smile was sudden and lopsided.
“How do you feel?” Bruce refused to dwell on it, especially when he was still flushing like a guilty man – which he wasn’t.
“Like a tank rolled over me,” Tony replied and slowly moved his head, grimacing as he did.
“If it hurts, don’t do it,” Bruce told him needlessly.
“It’s cool,” Tony mused, trying to take a look around. “Extremis will… sort it out,” he explained a bit distractedly as he spotted the first body. Slowly his eyes moved back to Bruce, checking him out, not failing to notice his bloody leg. “You’re looking a lot less green than I would expect,” he noted. “Is that a gunshot wound in your thigh?”
“It is, and I’m feeling a bit green,” Bruce admitted.
Tony looked at his face. “They shot you?” He truly sounded surprised.
“I think they didn’t know who I was,” Bruce shrugged one shoulder.
“So why not let the big guy make the introductions?”
“You would have been caught in the middle of it, and after the crash, rolling around on the street and being shot, I wasn’t sure if I could control any of it. So, here we are,” he shrugged again. “Less green than usual.”
Tony blinked, taking in this information, then craned his neck again, slowly this time. “Who do they work for?” he asked, looking at the aircraft and an unmoving pair of legs visible from their current spot.
“They didn’t say and I didn’t ask,” Bruce replied. He knew they had to find out eventually, to know who was gunning for them – for Tony – but right now he had more pressing matters to take care of: “We need to get out of here,” he said.
Tony nodded and swallowed, closing his eyes. “Find my phone and call J.A.R.V.I.S.”
Bruce was tempted to tell Tony that it would be easier said than done, considering the condition of the van, but he still looked around, hoping for a small strike of luck – and indeed, he spotted Tony’s phone lying inside the cockpit, very close to where Tony had lain before.
“Got it,” he said out loud and began to move towards it.
Tony merely gave him a thumbs up without opening his eyes, but just as soon as Bruce began to get worried that something was wrong, he could see faint bursts of light beneath Tony’s skin and knew Extremis was finally taking charge, healing the worst of his injuries.
Sighing and leaning against the twisted chassis of the van, Bruce slid his thumb over the miraculously whole screen of Tony’s phone and selected to call Tony’s AI, looking forward to some pain relief of his own.
Once help was on the way, Bruce felt accomplished despite the things he had been forced to do – and endure – to protect them. At the back of his mind, the Hulk snorted and retreated somewhat, going into a light slumber and leaving Bruce to suffer from another stab of pain from his leg – a reminder that had he let the monster out, he wouldn’t have had to deal with the pain anymore.
No pain, no gain, Bruce mused and focused on watching Tony, making sure he was okay and keeping an eye on the mesmerizingly beautiful flitter of red, gold and burning orange that surfaced on his skin every now and then. It lulled his mind into a state where the pain didn’t quite reach him.
The light reverie didn’t stop him from growing instantly alert at the sound of thrusters, a good thirty seconds before James Rhodes landed on the road in his War Machine armor.
In New York City, things went back to normal fairly quickly: Tony went straight to bed, declining to see a doctor, and Bruce locked himself in his lab and tended to his wounds, too paranoid to let anyone else do it for him. War Machine proceeded to hunt down the leads on their attackers – something Tony had insisted he could do on his own, once he was recovered, but James Rhodes has simply said ‘I’ve got this, Tony’, and that was the end of that conversation.
There had been other conversations, however, on the Air Force plane on the flight to New York, and once Tony was awake, Bruce felt he needed to have a talk with him about that.
“You need to stop telling people that we kissed,” Bruce ordered when he entered Tony’s lab. Tony had gone there after waking up to browse through the mission report from War Machine. Apparently the base coordinating the attack on them was now in shambles and questioning of prisoners was underway.
“Why?” Tony asked distractedly. He looked healthy and alive, completely recovered from their brief adventure, whereas Bruce was hobbling around with a crutch to keep his weight off his wounded leg.
“Because it isn’t true,” Bruce pressed.
“It isn’t true,” he repeated. When Rhodes had asked them what had happened, Tony had, for some strange reason, felt like leading with a completely false story that Bruce had kissed him. It had been hard to tell whether Rhodes believed him or thought he had a concussion – especially when Bruce had been shaking his head in denial.
Tony turned towards him, pursing his lips. “Are you insinuating that if my life had not been in danger, you wouldn’t have done it?”
“Yes, I… think so,” Bruce replied, trying to predict where Tony was going with this. He was always going somewhere with questions posed like that. “You weren’t breathing normally and I didn’t want you to suffocate after I had just gotten shot in the leg trying to protect you.” He left out the part where he had been forced to kill three men in addition to that.
“You should have just Hulked out,” Tony informed him.
Bruce sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m starting to think that, too. See if the other guy would have tried to revive you.” When he lifted his face, Tony was standing a lot closer than he had been before, his sudden proximity causing Bruce to jump in alarm – and wince in pain as a result. “Personal space,” he hissed at Tony, inching back awkwardly, his right thigh burning as he put too much of his weight on it.
“I am thankful,” Tony informed him, hands clasped behind his back. “Your efforts may have been a tad unnecessary, but they are appreciated. I just don’t see what all the fuss is about the kissing comment; we both know what happened.”
“Other people don’t know what happened, and you make it sound like I took advantage of your unconscious body,” Bruce informed him. “This isn’t a joke,” he added as Tony flashed a grin at him.
“I know,” Tony said, very unconvincingly. “I will set the record straight at once. J.A.R.V.I.S., please inform Rhodey that –”
“I’m sure Rhodey knows what really happened,” Bruce stopped him. “Can we just forget about it?”
Tony looked at him again, the smile vanishing, but there was warmth in his expression still, all of it directed at Bruce. “I don’t want to forget about it,” he admitted.
“Why?” Bruce frowned. “It was a very unpleasant half-hour, in between crashing and –”
“You protected me even though it meant a whole lot of unnecessary suffering,” Tony cut him off. “I wasn’t sure you had it in you.” After all the things Tony had said about him in the past, this comment came as a surprise. It must have shown on Bruce’s face because Tony went on a moment later: “Don’t get me wrong; I think you’re hero material as much as the rest of us. You have the potential. However, being a hero and doing the right thing… sometimes you still take shortcuts.
“Out there, you pulled out all the stops. You didn’t transform and take the easy way out – all for fear of putting me in danger when I was… ill-disposed to take care of myself.” The notion seemed to make Tony a bit uncomfortable. “Thank you,” he finally concluded. “And the kiss was nice to wake up to.” The grin was right back on his face, bright and completely infuriating.
“It wasn’t a…” Bruce cut himself off, seeing as he wasn’t going to win this. Tony knew it hadn’t been a kiss, but he seemed to take delight in pretending it had been, on some level at least. “If it had been a kiss,” Bruce stated slowly, “you would have known.”
“Oh?” Tony perked up as if he had just been issued a challenge.
“Yes,” Bruce nodded, a bit haughtily.
“Care to give me a sample so that I can verify your claim?” Tony asked, taking a small step closer, hands still innocently behind his back although he was starting to vibrate with barely contained excitement. It was like when they were discussing a scientifically stimulating topic and Tony seemed unable to believe there was actually a person in his life who was just as into it as he was.
Bruce knew he shouldn’t and that it was possibly worse than the idea of subjecting himself to the experiment that had turned him into the Hulk, but Tony’s inability to back down from a challenge was rubbing off on him and made him take a shuffling step forward, which urged Tony to lean towards him, and then they were kissing for real and the difference was staggering: Tony’s lips were responsive and alive, and Bruce wasn’t trying to push air from his lungs into someone else’s. Even when keeping it fairly chaste, it sent his heart beating a little faster in excitement – especially when Tony sucked onto his lower lip in parting, just briefly, and Bruce swore he had never noticed how thick Tony’s eyelashes were until they were drawing apart, still very much dwelling in each other’s space.
“Fascinating,” Tony breathed. “I may have to ask for a repeat performance, to verify the results.”
Bruce knew what he was aiming for because he wasn’t an idiot. Tony was yanking him around a bit too easily, which was dangerous…
He really should have hated Tony for being selfish and inconsiderate; for achieving all the things Bruce had ever wanted to be and his flamboyance about that infuriated Bruce to no end.
Instead of letting all those nasty thoughts into his heart, however, Bruce leaned in to kiss Tony again. When he felt Tony’s lips twitch up in a smile, it was followed by a sensation like a deep purr reverberating inside him as the Hulk shifted. It made Bruce feel relaxed and safe, inside and out, for the first time in more years than he could remember.
It was more than worth getting shot in the leg, he decided, no matter how short-lived the moment would be.
The way Tony’s hands slid over his face and into his hair, it felt like it might be more than just a little while.