Title: The Talk
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: Takes place between “The Recording” and “The Ropes”.
Genre: Romance, drama
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Pepper Potts, Tony Stark (Iron Man)
Pairings: implied Pepper/Tony, Bruce/Tony
Summary: Bruce and Pepper have a talk about their respective and collective relationships with Tony.
Complete. Part of the “Slow Burn” series.
Warnings: Polyamorous relationship negotiation, language, strongly suggestive sexual discussion & remarks (F/M & M/M). Not Phase 2 compatible.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, 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)
About The Talk: This part ties the series’ beginning stories together and is less likely to stand alone (but can be read as a separate entity without a lot of confusion).
This series works with the implication that Pepper might be asexual within the universe of this series.
Mild canon divergence seeing as ‘Iron Man 3’ obviously hasn’t happened and Tony’s handling his life a lot better, post-Battle of New York).
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.
It was the week after Bruce had settled down to jerk off to a homemade porno featuring Tony Stark and some random guy. On that same occasion the real and present Tony Stark had found his way to Bruce’s side, staying there until the ‘big finish’ – long after the erotic video had come to an end.
Bruce hadn’t seen much of Tony in the days that followed but he knew better than to take it as a sign that something inappropriate had happened between them; Tony wasn’t the kind of person to hide, and he was most likely busy with projects that didn’t have anything to do with Bruce.
The thing was, though, it was hard to tell when one crossed a line with Tony. Bruce hoped he had it mostly figured out; whereas Tony was always careless about Bruce’s boundaries, provoking him at the most inopportune moments. That behavior revealed a unique talent on Tony’s part; to be able to read Bruce so well he could dance around the monster yet never truly bait it. As if Tony knew better than Bruce himself where his real boundaries lay…
After the Battle of New York, Bruce had sort of fallen into a life where Tony and his teasing were a constant occurrence. It had soon taught him that the teasing wasn’t a mere provocation, either, but Tony’s way of showing that Bruce was in control – especially after the events on the Helicarrier.
There may have also been room for that clichéd remark about pulling pigtails, but Bruce usually chose not to go there.
It was undeniable, however, that Bruce felt a certain degree of affection for Tony – and not just affection but cock-jerking interest as well. He had been able to tell himself it was one-sided pining until he and Tony got to talking one day and he ended up watching that erotic film starring his friend… and then Tony had joined him on his couch and propositioned him with things that went far beyond teasing and innuendo.
While it felt good that they both knew they liked each other as more than friends, it also put Bruce in an awkward position since Tony was still in a relationship with Pepper Potts. That situation threatened to throw Bruce for a loop, seeing as Tony seemed truly happy with her, but at the same time Bruce could recall the breathy admissions – that Tony would let Bruce fuck him, although Bruce knew he wouldn’t do it.
Sometimes Bruce imagined he would, and he had decided he would also like it. As long as all of it remained completely hypothetical and locked inside his mind, however, it felt like a safe fantasy to entertain.
And it was, until Bruce ran into Pepper in the hallway. Bruce was so busy having an internal debate about whether or not he should go see if Tony was in his workshop that he almost ran straight into the tall woman.
“Bruce,” Pepper greeted him with a radiant smile. “Do you have a moment?”
Bruce tried not to curl into himself, sensing Pepper might be excellent at reading body language. “Of course,” he replied, because he did – although he hadn’t thought to spend a moment with her.
“Shall we go to my office?” she propositioned.
Bruce wondered if she was going to ask him to take a job at Stark Industries. Tony had handed him about a dozen offers as it was, all extravagant and way more generous than was reasonable. It wasn’t the offers that kept Bruce from accepting but the fact that he wasn’t certain where his life was going – and how long he would be staying here before he felt the burning need to move on.
Still, if this was a job offer, it would be polite to hear Pepper out, so Bruce nodded his head and followed her into her Tower office, which had a splendid view, tasteful design and the general feel of an office that didn’t see as many visitors as her other ones, being more of a private working area and thus more comfortable.
“Please, sit,” she gestured at a comfortably cushioned chair situated next to a glass table.
Bruce did as he was told, still trying not to appear as nervous as he was getting.
“Care for a drink?” Pepper asked.
“No, thank you,” he replied.
Pepper made herself a glass of pale, cloudy liquid that smelled of lime and sat down opposite from him, opening the top button of her blouse. “I need to talk to you about Tony,” she started, hands settling in her lap. If she was trying to appear non-threatening, it was working, but her words put Bruce on edge.
“What about him?” Bruce asked, not letting anything slip.
For a moment she frowned, just a little, as if second-guessing her intended approach. Pepper was a smart woman – Tony would not have gone steady with someone less than that; she would probably know something was off if Bruce acted the wrong way, which warned him to tread carefully.
“I know the two of you are close,” Pepper went on after a moment. Her fingers shifted, the hands reversing their positions in her lap, settling down again. Was she nervous? “I know your friendship means a lot to him, and he doesn’t want to do anything to compromise that.”
“I appreciate his friendship, too,” Bruce admitted. “It’s… one of the few things that are keeping me here,” he added, because she had to know he debated packing his bags and leaving, every single morning. Yet he stayed, a few essential things set aside should he get the jitters, but otherwise he kept the bag in a closet and his things carefully scattered around, reminding himself that he could have this. That he didn’t need to be ready to disappear at a moment’s notice.
She nodded again, biting her lip briefly. Something in her demeanor changed, as if she were dropping her guard – dropping the CEO act. “You know Tony and I have been in a relationship for a while now,” she mused.
“Yes,” Bruce nodded. “I know you’re very important to him and he wouldn’t do anything to compromise your… well…” He had no idea what to say. If she suspected he and Tony were more than friends – which, occasionally, might be the truth – he needed to reassure her of Tony’s love and devotion. If this was something else, he didn’t want to go to too much trouble telling her what she already knew.
She gave him a brief smile. “I know,” she replied and looked down at her lap, smoothing her hands across her dress, as if to straighten it when it was already immaculate. “There are certain things Tony and I have discussed – certain things you may not be aware of,” Pepper went on, looking at him again. “While our relationship is as sound and healthy as ever, there are things… We are not fully… compatible,” she finished, sounding like she was unhappy with the word but unable to think of a better one.
“I’m… not sure I understand,” Bruce frowned. He didn’t see what any of that had to do with him.
Pepper gave him a gentle smile, as if understanding his confusion. “I’ll be frank, Bruce. I think we’ll both benefit from that.”
“Of course,” he replied numbly.
“While Tony and I enjoy many aspects of our relationship, the sexual aspects of it are not working. I know he would move heaven and earth to give me what I need, but sadly, that is not the issue,” she said bravely, then seemed to hesitate again. Bruce had a feeling they were about to enter very personal territory and he felt a bit uncomfortable with that – yet Pepper had asked to talk to him and he knew that she would not do it unless there were a genuine need to include him in something. “I… I am not as into it as Tony is, and while he’s vowed that he can live with that, I don’t think I want to force him into that kind of lifestyle. While the playboy part of his life is over, after Afghanistan, I know he craves the physical expression of affection – or just the release, depending on the day,” she concluded.
Bruce shifted. He liked to think this was news to him – about both Pepper and Tony – but he wasn’t overly shocked by it. “Why am I here?” he forced himself to ask, seeing as Pepper had been frank with him and there was no reason to beat around the bush at this point.
“Let’s just say that I suggested to Tony that he should sleep with other people, if he feels the need. At first he was aghast, but then he told me that I should pre-approve anyone he becomes involved with. While I appreciated the thought behind that arrangement, it made me hesitate, seeing as it was becoming a bit too real – and he saw that. That’s when Tony asked if I would prefer that he had only one lover. That’s when you came up.”
“Oh.” That one-word response was the short version of a very long list of things that were crossing Bruce’s brain. Again, he wasn’t surprised, exactly, knowing how his and Tony’s relationship had already progressed to that strange zone between friendship and something more, but now he understood where Tony was coming from, for the first time. “I’m his…” He almost said ‘plus one’, but didn’t. It didn’t feel real, that people actually made arrangements like this in real life, but here he was, and there was Pepper, waiting for him to sort it out in his head.
It was a fortunate thing Bruce had been somewhat prepared for this, because if he hadn’t, the outcome would have been very different.
“You’re okay with this?” Bruce asked Pepper in return. “Tony proposing that he might have a relationship with another man?”
“A relationship with you,” Pepper corrected. “Yes, I realize you are a man,” she added with a little laugh as if it were amusing. “I can say I was a little surprised when he suggested you, knowing who – and what – you are. No offense,” she hurried to add like so many other people who happened to know of Bruce’s big green alter ego.
“None taken,” Bruce offered her a small smile.
“That being said,” Pepper continued, clearing her throat briefly, “I’m not suddenly entertaining thoughts that Tony’s actually a gay man hiding in the closet, having fooled the public by fornicating with countless beautiful women for publicity’s sake. What I do know is that Tony has a tremendous respect for you and that just being in a room alone with you probably gives him a hard-on.”
Bruce tried to fight back a blush and shifted. He knew Tony appreciated his intellect – had been told so in many different ways and in various languages by the man himself. It didn’t mean that someone else knowing about it didn’t make him a little uncomfortable. And, speaking of which… “I should probably tell you that Tony… already made his move on me, about a week ago,” he confessed. He prayed that was after he and Pepper had talked about this.
“I’m aware,” Pepper smiled. “He said he would try to ‘feel you out’ – and somehow I knew exactly what that would mean.” She looked at him for a moment, as if trying to solve a puzzle. “I take it you are receptive to the idea, then?”
“I’m not sure what the idea entails, exactly,” Bruce admitted. “There are… limitations to what I can do. Limitations I would like to test,” he added. For the first time in years he felt like he could catch his breath long enough to start looking ahead – to figure out certain aspects of the monster lurking inside him and the things that brought him forth. “Still, I’m not certain I can give Tony what he wants and needs.”
“I think you can give him enough,” Pepper argued. “It’s not about sex – not anymore. Well, that’s what he claims and I’m inclined to believe him, seeing as… After he came home after three months of captivity, with a glowing machine in his chest, I don’t think he’s actually slept with anyone but me. He pretends he has, but Tony has a way of making people believe they’ve had an awesome time without him actually committing to it physically.”
Bruce had a vague idea of what that meant and felt a new appreciation for the fact that Tony was coming onto him so strongly, considering his lack of interest in being with others, save for Pepper.
“So, I’ll help him take the edge off,” Bruce summed up.
“You are free to do more than that,” Pepper told him. “I know the idea of being with you turns him on and I’m not going to pretend it has nothing to do with the fact that you are a man. If you end up fucking him into the mattress, I’m fine with that.” It was her turn to blush, just a little. Bruce found he rather liked how it made him feel. “Sometimes, maybe… if this works out… perhaps I can join you,” she suggested. “I refused to talk to Tony about that possibility before we knew where you stood on the matter, but I’m not… averse to the thought of watching him with you.”
Bruce supposed that was something to be talked about some other day, in depth. He was getting the feeling that Pepper had needs, too, but perhaps they were emotional more than physical, and seeing someone she cared about deeply enjoying themselves… In a normal world – or another fantasy world – that was what a real relationship was all about.
“I think we all need to come back to that at a later date,” Bruce said and Pepper nodded, looking a bit relieved.
“But you’re otherwise receptive to the idea?” Pepper confirmed.
“I would be lying if I denied it,” Bruce confessed. “So, yes. I think I need to talk to Tony about the details, but…”
“Please, do,” Pepper agreed and gave him a happy smile. “Thank you, Bruce. You have no idea what a relief this is.”
“I’m sure I’ll get a better idea soon,” he replied and stood up.
Pepper nodded and watched him go, reaching out for her drink for the first time since setting it down on the table. Bruce left her, closing the door of her office, then headed down to Tony’s workshop, determined to find the other man and get to the bottom of this.
Luckily, Tony was in the shop, going over some armor schematics as Bruce entered. “Hey,” the man greeted without turning away from the various screens.
“I had a talk with Pepper,” Bruce jumped right in, watching Tony’s body language.
The other man stiffened briefly, then forced himself to relax, an abrupt jerking motion of his wrist making the screens go blank and several holographic screens around the room vanish mid-air. Only then did Tony turn his saddle chair around, looking up at Bruce’s face. “Yeah?” he started.
Bruce kept his features carefully neutral. “I believe you had a talk with her as well.”
“I did,” Tony confessed. “About…”
“Yes,” Tony nodded, then frowned. “She told you about the arrangement.”
“Were you going to tell me about it before or after you got into my pants?” Bruce challenged.
Tony grimaced. “Look, it’s not like that.”
“Okay, it’s exactly like that – but it doesn’t have to be,” Tony contradicted himself instantly, as if not finding a satisfactory response on Bruce’s face. “What did Pepper tell you?”
“Why don’t you tell me what you two originally talked about?” Bruce challenged, still not letting any emotion show on his face.
Tony was getting visibly anxious. Bruce knew it was cruel to play him like this, but he also knew that if he pushed far enough, he would get Tony to blurt out the truth – and then some. Tony read people really well but Bruce knew from experience that his well-practiced calm threw the other man off.
“We talked about you,” Tony started. “And, y’know, me,” he gestured between them, then stopped, seeing as he hadn’t actually gone as far as saying ‘you and me’ yet. “How much did she tell you?” he asked again.
“Why did you talk about me?” Bruce pushed, taking a step forward.
Tony fidgeted in his seat a little, his eyes never leaving Bruce’s face. “That’s… private.”
“Really?” Bruce had to raise his eyebrows.
Tony let out a puff of air and stood up. “Fine. Okay, so, it’s a known fact that I have a hard time keeping it in my pants, and there are some things that are not working out with Pepper and me. However, I don’t want to cheat on her – I won’t, I said that and I meant it. But then there’s you, and I think you could be different – that this thing between us could be different.” He was starting to make gestures, a lot, and Bruce stepped in to intercept his hands before Tony got out of control.
“Enough,” he said gently, dropping the passive face and allowing himself to smile. “She asked me and I said yes.”
Tony’s intense frown had to be hurting his face. “She asked you… what?”
For a second Bruce feared that all three of them had misunderstood each other – although there was a very small chance Bruce had misunderstood Pepper. Seeing as that part of the equation could be relied upon, Bruce moved on to the sketchy part that needed confirmation: “She asked me to be your lover and I said yes. Well, at least that’s pretty close to what we –”
Tony’s face rushed forward, his nose brushing against Bruce’s as he smashed their lips together. His fingers twitched a little in Bruce’s hold, as if he were unable to contain the feelings inside him – which was true since the first thing Tony did after drawing back from the kiss was let out a quick, honest little laugh. “You said yes,” he repeated then, voice wavering a bit, and he seemed to be having a hard time deciding between grinning and schooling his features.
“We need to work out the details,” Bruce told him. “If you thought this would be a simple matter of –”
“It’s you,” Tony cut him off, grin dropping for a moment. “Nothing about you is simple.”
Bruce was glad they were in agreement about that. To convey his appreciation of that fact, he released Tony’s hands and framed his face, drawing him into a slower, deeper kiss. Tony’s hands settled on Bruce’s face a moment later, clever fingers caressing over his ears, cheeks, neck and hairline – in complete opposition to the calmness of the kiss.
When they drew apart, Tony took a moment to just hug him for a bit. Bruce took that chance to wonder what would happen next, now that they had arrived at this point in their relationship, but instead of demanding that they consummate it, Tony drew back from him with another smile and returned to his chair, snapping his fingers to bring the screens back online, getting back to work.
Someone else might have seen that as a hurtful dismissal, but Bruce knew it was Tony’s way of showing that he was serious about this arrangement and instead of trying to jump Bruce’s bones on the spot, he was saving that for a moment better suited for such activities.
So, Bruce went and got himself a cup of coffee, sat down in another chair, rolled it over to Tony’s desk and worked with him, alongside him and around him in that dance they had already established during their friendship – enjoying every second of it, especially when he knew that eventually, that friendship would only deepen.