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Of Art and Science

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So... I mentioned this theme on the Science Boyfriends Feels facebook group, then decided to go ahead and try it. This is my first ever story. So uh.. It's not pro work, but here it is.
Oh, and you can blame the pancakes on the 2 or 3 pancake-fics I've read recently.

Thank you for the reviews. You guys are all so nice!


Bruce was having a dream. A nightmare, he thinks, though it hasn’t turned down that path really yet. He’s sitting at a window in an empty room and the Hulk is sitting at the other end of the windowsill, looking out at the wrecked city below. He keeps expecting to merge back into the Hulk and start tearing the place apart as usually happens in his nightmares featuring the Hulk, but they just sit in silence for a while. Bruce looks down at the street, at the spot where Hulk had landed after catching Tony.

“Hulk played nice” a rumbling voice suddenly broke the silence.

Bruce looked up in surprise. He hadn’t expected Hulk to be able to talk. Dream-Hulk, he reminded himself.

“Hulk played nice. Hulk want out more” the Dream-Hulk pleaded.

Before Bruce could think of a proper response to that, bright light was suddenly shining in his eyes and he awoke to find Tony pulling back his curtains in a hurry.

“Huaaghu?” He mumbled, covering his eyes with his forearm.

Tony was all dressed up in one of his meet-the-press suits. He was covered in bruises but still managed to look suave and professional.

“Wakey wakey. I have to go do this thing with the press or they’ll be hounding me all day. I’m good tho, I’ll get rid of them in about 40 minutes tops, then let’s go have lunch, yeah? There’s this awesome place I’ve been dying to take someone to but Pepper just refuses. Need anything while I’m gone, ask JARVIS.“ Tony said all this very fast while on his way out the door. He was like a whirlwind.

Bruce groaned and remained where he was. He was hungry. Really hungry. But he was also a bit uncomfortable. Just yesterday they’d been knocking aliens out of the sky and mucking up Loki’s plans to take over the world. He’d come home with Tony because he really didn’t have anywhere else to go and he was tired after his transformation. He’d done little more than stumble to the bed in his assigned guestroom and pass out. He didn’t really know where he stood in all this. He got along well with Tony so far, but he didn’t like to impose. He’d have to find a way to pay him back for putting him up for the night. And now apparently he would have to pay him back for lunch as well.

First thing’s first, though. Bruce needed coffee. He had no idea where anything was. He’d foregone the grand tour last night since he’d barely had energy to walk down the hall. He peered out of his door and down a long hallway. There were several doors down each side of the hall. It looked a lot like a hotel, except everything was white and pristine. The front side of the building had sustained heavy damage during the fight, and here and there he could see cracks in the wall on the other side of the hall.

“Forgive my intrusion, but you look lost, sir”

Bruce started. The voice seemed to be coming from all around him. Then he remembered. JARVIS. Unsure where to look when addressing the AI, he closed his eyes instead, and, feeling foolish, asked the empty hallway where the coffee might be.

A series of lights in the floor lit up then, leading down the hall to the left. “Right this way, sir” the voice responded. He left his door open, afraid he wouldn’t be able to find it again otherwise, and followed the lights. One floor down he found the kitchen. It was the largest and most empty-looking kitchen he’d ever seen. Everything looked unused. The lights terminated just past a large chrome-front refrigerator. He followed them and peered around next to the refrigerator and found a coffeemaker on the counter, his much-needed fuel prepared for him and ready moments later. Thank goodness.

Bruce sat down at the kitchen table, and a monitor built into the table came to life. He shouldn’t have been surprised. He’d been away from technology for so long, but he was currently in the house of the man who lived and breathed new tech. He decided now was as good a time as ever to start looking for ways to earn money to pay Tony back, but before he got a chance to do more than open the browser, Tony was back and ushering him out the door for lunch.

They went to a little place that specialized in crepes and french toast. Bruce ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, for which Tony glared at him and ordered Bruce the same thing he was getting as well. The service and the food were fantastic and he couldn’t help but ask why Pepper refused to go.

“She doesn’t like pancakes, and apparently that extends to crepes. Completely ridiculous.” He rolled his eyes and scooped up a mouthful of crepe.

The rest of the lunch went pleasantly enough. They talked about the monitor in the kitchen table and the lights around the floor. Bruce might have mentioned how out-of-touch he’s been with technology while on the run the past years. Tony might have gotten a certain glint in his eye at this and rushed them back to Stark tower, where he proceeded to drag Bruce to his personal lab (not that Bruce was objecting) and showed him all his current and most recent projects. Bruce was thoroughly impressed and had a lot of questions, but for the most part was able to understand Tony’s technical explanations.

This became a habit for them, staying up long into the night in the lab just talking about Tony’s projects or ideas, or occasionally discussing the different types of tests Bruce had tried on himself or wanted to try.

Heading off to bed one night, Bruce realized he was happier than he’d been in as long as he could remember. He was still determined to pay Tony back for the hospitality, but he didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable being in Stark Tower anymore. He felt rather… comfortable.

That night Bruce dreamed that he and Tony combined their knowledge and found him a cure. It was a cruelly pleasant dream, and he woke up grumpy as a result. He also woke up feeling fairly strange, sort of as if Hulk was hovering just below the surface. As if any little thing would set him off. His control was considerable, and before the whole Avengers thing he’d managed a year without a transformation. To have this particular feeling without anything to set it off made him uneasy. He decided that stress might be catching up with him and making up for the enjoyable… how long had it been? A month already? Making up for the enjoyable month he’d been having, and that perhaps he should take a sick day and just stay in bed.

Tony stopped by his room but Bruce didn’t open the door, said he was sick and that he shouldn’t get anyone else sick so he’d just stay in thank you very much. Tony overrode the locks and came in anyway. He gave Bruce a critical look and decided that he did look a little green. After offering to get some medicine, which Bruce declined, Tony left him alone, but 15 minutes later he dropped off one of his transparent tablets. An extra, he said, that Bruce might as well keep. Junk, he called it. Didn’t want it, he said. How could Bruce refuse?

Bruce gingerly picked up the piece of Stark tech and turned it on. It booted up instantly and he marveled at the thing before setting to work looking for a job that would be his ticket to paying Tony back. He hadn’t had much of an opportunity to hunt for one yet. The time had gone by so fast. He knew he couldn’t pay Tony back for the tablet, and wrote that one off, however reluctantly, as a gift. Job searching had never been the most exciting of tasks, and soon he fell back asleep.

Hulk was sitting across from him at the window again. He realized they were in a room of Stark Tower. It looked a lot like the lab, but with everything removed. Hulk looked distinctly annoyed.

“Hulk good. Hulk patient. Time up.”

When Bruce awoke, he was naked on the floor in a corner of his room. He scrambled up as well as he could, post-transformation muscle aches and all. The room appeared to be still intact. The only immediate sign of destruction was a chair in splinters at his table. The table was covered in scraps of paper with awkward doodles all over them. The tablet that Tony had just given him was on the table as well, still intact, but with a cracked screen. An impact appeared to have hit it where one of the touchscreen buttons was, and he imagined a giant green finger trying to use the thing and breaking it, like everything else the Hulk touched.

The damage to the tablet really stung more than it should. It was a gift, and he didn’t receive many of those. He knew the Hulk hadn’t intended to cause the thing harm though. For the first time ever, he woke up from being the Hulk and knew that the Hulk only wanted to be alive for a couple hours. To breathe and stretch his legs. Bruce almost felt bad then. Like the Hulk was a severely neglected pet that he had locked up in his skull.

It was getting late, but he had enough time to go to the store if he was fairly quick about it. He nodded determinedly at the scraps of paper, and headed out to buy Hulk some art supplies. If he was going to be letting him out now and then, he wanted to make sure that the Hulk remained someplace solitary. Preferably right where he stayed today, in the room.

-------------------------------------------------------

Tony watched on the monitor in his lab as the Hulk shrank back into the unassuming form of Bruce Banner. JARVIS had alerted him to the emergence of the Hulk and he’d been halfway to one of his suits when the Hulk had peacefully sat down on the chair, which promptly crunched so that he sat on the floor. Intrigued, Tony watched the Hulk fumble around with the pen that Bruce had left on the nightstand, drawing on the little pad of paper, and more often than not poking holes through several sheets at once. The tablet had already received it’s fatal attack by this time, and once he saw that the Hulk was being peaceful, Tony set about devising a new material for the touch screen. The previous one had been Gorilla Glass, but obviously he needed to replace it with Hulk Glass. Just as soon as he invented it.

He was deep in the process of testing his second attempt at Hulk-proof glass that could work as a touch-sensitive screen when Pepper came in to drag him away to dinner. He glanced at the monitor that JARVIS had showing Bruce’s room, and let out a curse under his breath when he realized that the Hulk was no longer in the room. Telling Pepper he had to check on Bruce since he’d been feeling under the weather, he tried to usher her away.

Pepper shook her head at him. “But… I just saw him. He seemed fine, albeit a bit tired. Anyway he’s not here, he just left. Something about going to the store. Did you know he’s been job-hunting? Why don’t you hire him? He spends all his time in here anyway.”

Tony hadn’t known about Bruce’s job search, but wasn’t surprised. It was just so like Bruce to do that. “No I don’t want to hire him.”

“What? Why??”

“Because.” Because I don’t want him to be obligated to hang out with me. There’s no way to say that and still sound cool, is there?

Pepper seemed to understand, and didn’t ask him to clarify. She was frighteningly perceptive sometimes. He was glad of that, and smirked a bit at the thought as she dragged him off to have dinner with the mayor.

Tony was used to these kinds of social dinner situations, but he still found them dreadfully boring. They were forced to stay for a couple of hours in the company of some boring person or other who thought they were as important or more important than Tony. It didn’t jive well with his ego’s need to be the center of attention. And with Pepper there to babysit, he couldn’t even try to steal the show.

Though he knew he shouldn’t be, he was rather glad when Fury called him in the middle of their dinner and announced that he and Bruce were required to meet with the others at SHIELD HQ immediately. Whatever emergency might have befallen the world now, he didn’t know, but he was glad that Fury had mentioned the need for Bruce to be present as well. It stopped Tony from worrying that Bruce might be the emergency.

He called his suit to him, stopped by Stark Tower to collect a very startled Bruce Banner in his arms, and blasted off into the night.

By the time they arrived at SHIELD HQ, Tony was laughing so hard he could barely breathe. He’d never heard Bruce yelp so loudly or swear so profusely. And the whole way there, Bruce had been angry and perhaps a bit afraid of the sudden flight without a seatbelt, but he hadn’t felt threatened. Tony could tell. He knew that a month or so ago Bruce would have been fighting for his life if anyone had suddenly picked him up out of the blue and taken him someplace. Bruce had told him about all the tests he’d performed on himself back in the lab those first weeks, and had mentioned a few tests that had been performed on him as well. By others. Without his permission. Tony bristled at the thought, but because of this he was ridiculously happy that Bruce hadn’t felt that threat when Tony dragged him off into the night.

Bruce cleared his throat pointedly and Tony mentally came back to the present. He hastily put Bruce down and looked around at the assembled avengers as if he’d been waiting patiently for them all to arrive and now that they were here it was time to get on with it.

----------------------------------

Fury glared at them all. “We’ve received intelligence that-“

“How?” Natasha was upset. She had managed to find out what the emergency was, but not how they’d found out. There was only one way she knew of that they could have obtained such information, and if they had, then it followed reasonably that SHIELD must be at fault for the current emergency.

Fury rolled his eye and started over, pretending he hadn’t been interrupted. “We’ve received intelligence that another army of Chitauri is on it’s way here. The previous army was a mere band of rebels. They appear to have decided that we’ve declared war on them, and are now taking matters seriously.”

Steve looked confused. “I thought you’d explained to me that they were very very far away and could only get here by the power of that cube thing.”

“The ‘cube thing’ that should be thoroughly inaccessible right now. What are you doing with the tesseract now?” Tony narrowed his eyes at Fury, mimicking Natasha’s expression without realizing it.

“Information is precious” Fury replied, infuriatingly, and began to pace. “They are expected to arrive in 30 minutes. We believe they will focus their attack on Stark Tower and surrounding area, as they are a bit… upset… about what we did to their rebels.”

“How are they getting here?” Bruce asked. They must have already travelled through the hole in space, but were apparently still half an hour away? It didn’t make sense.

“We took some precautions when collecting information, to allow you enough time to gather in the event that… well… that this happened.”

“Great, so you had some spaceship full of incompetent spies go flag down the enemy army across space and invite them through a convenient wormhole straight to our galaxy somewhere? Brilliant. I want to work with this group of idiots. Where do I sign up?” Tony stamped his iron-clad foot for emphasis.

“No suicide bombing” Bruce said quietly, looking at Tony with an expression that brooked no argument.

“Honestly, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to do that again. That was the first thing I thought as I plummeted back to Earth. ‘Gee I hope I survive this because I can’t wait to do it again!’” Tony snarked.

“Time is ticking. I suggest you get down there.” Fury stood stoic in clear dismissal, ignoring even Natasha’s frightening glare.

-----------------------------

The battle was fierce. Unlike last time, these were trained soldiers. Also unlike last time, there was no Loki. The result was a more systematic fight. There was no crazed god that could turn your allies against you, but each Chitauri was no pushover. They didn’t go down so easily like last time. They knew how to dodge much better than the last group had. They were also faster overall. Slightly faster than Iron Man, in fact. He couldn’t kite them around the city while Clint and Natasha picked them off as well as he had before.

It took them 3 hours before they finished the last of them. They were all exhausted. Tony did a quick head-count to make sure everyone was alright, and at first couldn’t find Hulk. He figured Bruce probably had already passed out somewhere, and looked around from above until he found him. It occurred to him at the same moment that he spotted Bruce that transforming into the Hulk twice in one day might be… bad.

Tony wasn’t a doctor, but could tell Bruce was in more than a deep sleep. He probably needed medical help, but there was no way Tony was going to give him over to the idiots who brought a Chitauri army down on them, so he grabbed Bruce in his arms and flew off before anyone could say anything else.

“I could get used to this form of air travel.”

Tony nearly dropped him then, he was so surprised. “I thought you were in a coma or something” he set Bruce down in the decimated remains of the room he’d been staying in. “Hm. This won’t do.” He looked around, thinking. “You know… why don’t we move you into the room across from the lab? It’ll be downright convenient and the repairs on that room were completed last… week”

He glanced down at Bruce’s sleeping form. Should have expected it probably. 2 Hulk transformations in a day probably had him feeling pretty beat up. Tony picked Bruce up again and carried him off to the room across from the lab. He then moved Bruce’s things, which took all of one trip. As he was putting his things down in a corner of the new room, he noticed the painting supplies. He had this sudden mental image of the Hulk in a beret painting happy little trees with a tiny paintbrush. He left quickly, not wanting to wake Bruce with his sudden giggling. Manly giggling, of course.

-----------------------------

Another month went by. The repairs on the back of the building were almost done. Bruce and Tony had become completely unseparable. Pepper was glad Tony had a close friend to bounce ideas off of, but it was infuriating being around them. There were too many inside jokes and science-y terms flying around when they were in the same room. If she wanted to actually be a part of the conversation, she had to drag Tony away from Bruce, which was becoming increasingly difficult to do. Bruce had taken a volunteer job at a local clinic, but it was more of an on-call position, and after the initial influx of patients after the last battle, there hadn’t been too much need for him.

Pepper entered the lab intending to drag Tony away, somehow, but found Tony sitting alone at the long table tinkering with something quietly. “Where’s Bruce?” she wondered.

“It’s his time of the month or something. Said he was feeling a bit green. Won’t let me listen to my music.” Tony pouted.

Pepper paused to give him a look of confusion, then decided to ignore it. “You’re the one who put his room right across from the lab” she reminded. “Anyway, I was hoping to get you out of the house to have dinner. I don’t think you’ve left the lab more than once in the past month”

“Of course I have,” he mumbled, not looking up from his work. “Anyway, I can’t leave now, I’m waiting for something” he squinted at a monitor, as if annoyed that it wasn’t showing him what he was expecting to see.

Pepper glanced at the monitor and her eyes widened a little. “Are you… are you watching Bruce sleep??”

Just then Bruce’s clothes started to rip and his body began to shift.

“Nope. I’m watching the Hulk paint.” Tony smirked at the bewildered expression on Pepper’s face as they watched the Hulk get up and check out his new easel that Bruce had set up before letting the transformation happen. After about 15 minutes, Tony excused himself and moments later Pepper saw him enter the room on the screen. She wanted to yell at him, but there was no way she was going near that door. In fact, she backed away from the hallway a bit, moving further into the lab.

----------------------

“Hey Hulk”, Tony began casually. He edged around, being unable to stop himself from checking out how the painting was going. The canvas was covered in blobs of red and gold, and some purple and green. It was really kind of artistic in an abstract sort of way. “Hey Hulk… You know… you could sell these.”

“Don’t care. Tony can.”

“I can? You sure? I will then. Can I… keep this one?”

The Hulk looked very satisfied, nodded, and got another canvas to paint. Tony took the painting and left him to it. He didn’t think it’d be really right for Bruce to know he’d been chatting merrily with the Hulk while he was gone. He had the impression that Bruce wanted his transformations to be private. Either way, this painting of him had to go on the wall in the lab right now. He couldn’t stop looking fondly at it. He told himself that his ego demanded it.

---------------------

Pepper watched him return to the lab, and opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again. He was hanging some dripping mess on the wall, checking to make sure it was straight, and smiling softly at it. Before Pepper decided what to make of that, he was whirling away out of the room. She followed, and he opened the passenger door for her, got in the driver seat, and headed downtown.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had you alone. Where are we going?” she asked, hoping it wouldn’t be someplace with pancakes. Again. Tony had a habit of ending up at restaurants that specialized in pancakes all day. She suspected it was intentional, but he never admitted it.

Tony smirked at her out of the corner of his eye while driving. “Hulk needs a beret. I’m going to a hat shop.”

Pepper couldn’t help but laugh at that. The thought of Hulk in a beret was just too silly. She wasn’t going to let him get away with just taking her along to buy Bruce a hat though. A restaurant would be required. They needed some time together, after all.

She quickly found that Tony was just as preoccupied by the other scientist when he wasn’t there as when he was. All he talked about was the projects he and Bruce had planned, the research they had done, and his plan for selling Hulk’s art so Bruce wouldn’t have to work, so they could spend more time inventing and creating together.

He was just in the middle of describing the levels of pressure the tablet he’d built for Bruce could withstand, and how Bruce still hadn’t realized that the entire tablet was made special for him, unbreakable now that the glass was fixed, when Pepper suddenly interrupted.

“Do you love him?”

“Wh-... what?” Tony’s whole train of thought was suddenly and effectively derailed. He stared at her without really seeing.

The lack of denial was enough of an answer for Pepper. “I’ll find my own way home” she got up quickly, not wanting him to see the tears in her eyes, and left.

Tony finished his dinner and left in a daze. After sitting in his car for 15 minutes he decided he was better off not trying to figure it out, and stopped thinking about it. Mostly. He headed home to find Pepper watching a movie with Steve and Natasha. Her eyes were red and he felt bad for that, but there wasn’t anything he could do. He assumed Bruce would be passed out and was torn between wanting to wake him to let him know they had company and wanting to let him sleep. When he got to the lab, though, he found Hulk sitting there with a stack of canvases, waiting patiently for him. After handing him the paintings, Hulk turned to leave, but just then Tony remembered the beret he’d gotten for him.

“Hey Big Guy, wait a sec. Got this for you. For when you’re painting.” He tossed the thing at Hulk. Hulk looked down at the big purple disc of fabric, confused. “Here, you wear it like this” Tony put it on Hulk’s head at a jaunty angle and took a picture with his phone. He showed Hulk the picture on one of the big monitors that were so prominent in the lab, and Hulk grinned a big scary grin at him in thanks. Hulk then lumbered off to his room, shrunk down, and passed out on the floor.

Tony carefully put the paintings in a closet and informed JARVIS to get in touch with some local art dealers. He then tucked Bruce into bed and put his glasses on the bedside table. They’d been lying haphazardly on the floor. He stood there for a few minutes watching Bruce sleep. Tony realized he was holding his arms tightly crossed over his chest just to stop himself from running a hand through Bruce’s hair. Time to go. Definitely time to go. Tony backed out of the room, stumbling a bit when his heel hit a chair leg. He closed the door and headed for the launch pad. He needed to do some flying.

Flying high over the city, he went into a nosedive, practicing curving up out of a dive at the last moment, practicing swerves in tight spaces between buildings, flips in the air, and other crazy maneuvers that could be useful in an unpredictable fight. It was calming. It was giving him an adrenaline rush and then spending it, leaving him just tired. He flew straight up with a smile on his face, preparing to do the routine several more times.

-----------------------------

Bruce awoke, groggy but calm. He was surprised to find himself in bed instead of on the floor somewhere, and he looked around, blinking in the darkness. The Hulk had obviously taken him up on his offer to spend his time out painting, but he couldn’t see any sign of the canvases he’d painted. That was odd. He got dressed and stretched, and headed to the lab to see if he’d missed anything exciting while he was out of it.

The lab was empty. He looked around and JARVIS told him that Tony was out practicing some maneuvers in his newest suit. Bruce nodded, and headed towards the balcony to watch. He looked out just in time to see Tony falling like a rock from the sky. He ran to the edge of the balcony and gripped the rail, looking down at the street below with wide eyes. Tony zipped around a corner and out of sight for a moment, then reappeared around the corner of another building. He was weaving and dodging in and out of alleyways, sometimes doing so while at a spin.

Bruce was mesmerized by the flying dance, and couldn’t tear his eyes away for several minutes. He finally did when his stomach gave a loud rumble, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten.

Heading to the kitchen, Bruce passed the living room where Natasha, Steve and Pepper were watching some sort of sappy movie. He heated up some pizza and sat down to join them. Pepper looked away and Natasha gave her a hug. No one said anything. The atmosphere was distinctly awkward and Bruce didn’t know why. It made him nervous, and he started to think maybe he had caused some sort of trouble when he hulked out after all. He was about to ask them what was going on when his on-call phone rang.

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When Bruce got to the clinic, things were bad. A full subway car had been derailed and almost no one who’d been riding escaped without injury. Investigation was underway as to how the car had derailed, but that wasn’t his concern. He had to help the injured. The clinic was completely overrun, as it had been a fairly full house before the accident. There were harried nurses running this way and that, still trying to triage and sort out whose injuries were more urgent and whose could wait. Bruce got to work. It would be a long night.

At noon the next day he finally crashed. He’d stayed up all night working on patient after patient. At first there were a several serious injuries that required his full concentration, but as the morning wore on, he found himself mostly just stitching up superficial wounds. There were many seriously injured patients, but the nurses (who kept telling him to go home and sleep) were only giving him simple tasks. He just finished cutting the thread on the last stitch on a young boy’s ankle when he simply passed out. His rolling stool slid out from under him and he crashed to the floor.

***

He was led to his next patient. This one was a serious one, and no one knew what to do with it. He found himself staring at Tony who had a crack in his reactor. Some sort of slime was leaking into it, or maybe out of it. He couldn’t tell. He didn’t understand why they’d brought him, because Tony was already dead. Bruce felt like the entire world had just abandoned him then. He threw his head back and screamed in anguish at the top of his lungs. He wondered vaguely why Hulk wasn’t interrupting.

***

Then he realized someone else was yelling his name. A hand from somewhere smacked him and he opened his eyes to find himself in the passenger seat of Tony’s car. Tony was looking at him worriedly, and not looking nearly enough at the road. What? So disoriented.

“What happened?” Bruce asked, feeling how raw his throat was.

“I received a call from the clinic. They said you passed out on the floor after working for 16 hours straight, which you did after already being awake for a full day, part of which was as the Hulk, which always makes you tired anyway. I came to pick you up, you started screaming. I started yelling. You didn’t wake up, so I slapped you. It worked.”

Something about that pinged a part of Bruce’s memory of last night. “You knew I let him out? Did… did he do anything he shouldn’t?”

“He was fine. Barely left his room. Your room. Anyway, no problem.”

Bruce let out a sigh of relief. “Good. I thought maybe he’d done something after… Well, Pepper was acting really odd, and I kinda got the impression I’d stepped on her puppy or something.”

Tony looked slightly guilty at this. “Not you. I stepped on her puppy.”

“Oh. … Did you want to talk about it?”

“Nope.”

“Okay.” Bruce put his hand on Tony’s shoulder in an attempt to be comforting. Now that he was looking for it, he saw the lines of stress etched into Tony’s face. He wanted to smooth them away somehow.

Tony glanced at him and casually asked “Hey, are you busy at the clinic tomorrow?”

Bruce knew most of the patients from the crash had been outpatients, and that after today’s events he was probably the last on-call person they’d contact. He hazarded a guess that he wouldn’t be hearing from them, and shook his head.

“Good. I have a thing to go to tomorrow evening. Come with me.” Tony looked almost nervous and this made Bruce suspicious.

“What kind of thing?”

“An auction event” Tony replied vaguely, keeping his eyes studiously on the road.

“Alright… under one condition.” Bruce agreed readily enough because he wanted to cheer Tony up if he somehow could.

“What’s that?”

“Take me to lunch, I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” As if to illustrate his point, his stomach grumbled loudly.

Tony smiled, and changed lanes. “Excellent. I know this great little place. You’ll love it. They specialize in enchiladas and pancakes. Strange combination. I wouldn’t recommend getting both together. Quirky little place. Great food.”

The place was a hole in the wall. Literally. There was no indoor seating. Just a hole where the employees worked, and you could walk up and order your food. There were a few tables outside, and if they were full you had to stand. Luckily there were a couple of tables free and they didn’t have that problem.

Bruce had 3 enchiladas, some nachos, and a soda. Tony had pancakes and a glass of milk. Bruce found the glass of milk extremely funny, as he’d only ever seen Tony drink alcohol before, but he tried not to laugh, since milk was definitely an improvement.

After eating, the lack of sleep was really starting to catch up with him and Bruce found himself stumbling to the car. When they got home, Tony wordlessly got out of the car, came around to the passenger side, and picked Bruce up. This was the first time Tony’d picked him up without the suit on, he thinks, and finds himself cuddling closer with his head leaning on Tony’s shoulder before he can stop himself. He wonders if he should back off, but Tony holds him a little tighter and he decides not to think about it.

-----------------

Tony paced back and forth. Bruce was being difficult, not wanting to let Tony buy him the suit that he’d already bought for him. He heard Bruce swear from the other side of the door. He decided to be the helpful friend that he is, and barge in to help. Bruce was standing in front of the mirror fussing with his bowtie which was horribly crooked. Tony walked up behind Bruce, reached forward and untied the bowtie, and retied it in one fluid movement, resulting in a perfect bow. He rested his chin on Bruce’s shoulder and looked at them both in the mirror. Bruce’s suit fit perfectly, which was surprising as he hadn’t had it custom tailored like he usually does. He hadn’t actually been sure if he’d be able to convince Bruce to wear it. “Ready then?” his reflection asked.

“You didn’t tell me it was going to be so fancy” Bruce grumbled, but he knew what the response would be before it was said. You didn’t ask.

He rolled his eyes and headed out the door, Tony following with a smirk.

At the auction house, Tony hesitated to get out of the car. “I probably should tell you something now. I know how you hate public displays of Hulk… PDH? So I probably should warn you.” He looked down at his hands, not expecting this to go too well. “That’s what’s on auction.”

Bruce looked at him, completely at a loss for what he was talking about. “What’s on auction? The Hulk?”

“Art. His art. To be fair, he gave it to me. And the money can go to whatever you want. I thought you’d throw them away if I didn’t intervene. So, you know… Don’t be mad?” He glanced up at Bruce pleadingly.

The fact that he even cared whether he was mad wasn’t lost to Bruce. Tony made people angry all the time. Usually on purpose. But Bruce couldn’t be mad at him. He was annoyed that he hadn’t been told from the start, and he told Tony so, who looked sheepish and hung his head. That look didn’t suit Tony at all. Bruce wanted to make it go away, so he came around to Tony’s side of the car, opened the door for him, and held out his hand to help him up. Tony took it, and they headed towards the auction together, hand in hand. Neither wanted to be the one to let go.

The auction was totally surreal. Bruce watched as canvas after canvas was shown to the small audience of elite rich men and women. Every canvas was just blobs of color, but Bruce could swear he recognized what the scenery was supposed to be, and who was in them. There was one of the city skyline out the window of Stark Tower. There was one of an alien. One of Loki. Several dark scenes. The cheapest canvas sold for $5,000. Bruce was speechless. Tony was gaining back some of his natural positivity.

By the end of the auction they were both grinning like mad men. Bruce because he could finally repay Tony for so many things with money left over for charity, and it was all due to Hulk. Tony because he was a mad man and he knew it.

When they got home and got out of the car, they were still smiling. Tony pulled Bruce into his arms and kissed him. He knew he shouldn’t. He couldn’t help it. Bruce just looked too stunningly handsome in the suit.

Bruce tensed up in shock, and oh that was probably a bad thing. Tony backed off and closed his eyes, not willing to see whatever expression Bruce might have been wearing. He needn’t have bothered, as Bruce bolted as soon as he was released.

-----------------------------------

Tony paced back and forth in his lab repeating a litany of “stupid, stupid, how could I be so stupid?” punctuated with a stamp of his foot as he turned and paced back the other way.

He had been doing that for half an hour. Bruce hadn’t come out of his room. Tony tugged on his hair and went to Bruce’s door, knocking determinedly. He waited and there was no answer. He wasn’t told to go away. He took that as permission to enter.

Hulk was sitting on the ground staring at his paintbrush, now and then brushing across the bristles with a giant finger. Tony sat in a chair across from him. There was silence for a few minutes, then he couldn’t help but ask “Don’t you find it confusing? Appearing every once in a while without knowing what’s been going on? I mean, Bruce is disoriented when he comes back to himself after you’ve been out, and he only misses a little bit.”

“Hulk know. Bruce scared to know.”

That’s interesting. “You know what goes on when you’re … away? So you know how bad I screwed up then, huh?”

Hulk looked up at him rather sharply, he thought. “Mistake?”

“Yeah, well no. I mean… It was intentional, and I wanted to, and I don’t regret it. But I shouldn’t have. And now I probably ruined whatever we had.” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair agitatedly. “Pepper’s right.”

Hulk looked at him inquisitively, but didn’t respond.

“She thinks I love him. We’re right for each other, Bruce and I.” Tony got up and walked to the window, staring out at the street below. “He’s the first person I’ve been able to talk to on my level in ages. And we always have fun. He doesn’t seem to get that annoyed with me like everyone else does. But if he doesn’t agree… Well he’d be wrong, because I’m right about this, but if he’s wrong I’ll pretend we’re just science bros, I won’t force him or anything. I just-“

A hand on his shoulder turned him around. There was Bruce, hastily wrapped in a bathrobe and looking like he was about to pass out. But he was smiling. “Hulk was wrong, you know. I’m not afraid anymore. And you might be right. But your hypothesis requires further testing.” He pulled Tony down into a gentle kiss. Soft and sweet.

Tony wrapped his arms around Bruce and held him close. The lights from the city below reflected in his eyes. “Testing? Well… Maybe we ought to run some experimental tests, then. You know…”

“For science.”