by elfin

Tony drives from L.A. to New York in two days. He stops a couple of times to buy gas and take a piss and once to sleep for a couple of hours. He can survive on that. He�s survived on that for months.


He�s left Pepper in California. There are a hundred reasons why but when he finally pulls into the underground parking lot he knows he�ll find one of them, the most important one, somewhere on the higher floors of the tower, probably still awake, probably still working despite it being just after dawn. These last couple of weeks � in the time since Killian was killed and Trevor arrested - they�ve exchanged a couple of calls, a few IMs and brief emails. But it hasn�t been enough for either of them and he knows Bruce has been waiting for Tony�s sake. He�s been waiting for Tony to come to him.


The nightmares about New York are fewer now and further between. But not everything about the war with Loki became a nightmare.


�J, have Dum-E and Butterfingers moved to my lab.� He kills the Audi�s engine.


�Of course. Welcome home, Sir.�


He considers that for a moment or two, shrugs and smiles. �I guess it is now.�


�Dr Banner�s in the lab on the eighty-seventh floor.�


�Did I ask?�


�You�ve had me monitoring him since the Mandarin threat began, Sir. I assumed.... I apologise.�


�Don�t. You�re right.� He only hesitates a moment before climbing out of the car and stretching aching muscles, cracking locked joints.




Bruce looks up, sees him and puts down whatever he�s doing but he doesn�t move.




Tony smiles. �Hey yourself.�


�How... how are you?�


�I�m good. How are you?� He doesn�t really need to ask, he can see the tension in Bruce�s body, the way he�s holding himself, trying to be nonchalant when he�s anything but.


�I�m....� He shakes his head, face falling, and that�s when Tony goes to him and gathers him up. He can feel the tiny shivers, the minute flexing of his muscles. �Oh, Christ, Tony....� There�s a strength in Bruce�s hold that should be slightly terrifying but Tony just returns it as best he can. �I was so fucking scared for you.� There�s nothing Tony can say. He knows Bruce heard the message he recorded for Pepper, thinks it might have broken his heart but it was bad enough he put Pepper in danger, he wasn�t going to broadcast his feelings for this man, no matter how secure the network. �I could have helped.�


�I had help.� He says it as gently as possible. �I wasn�t alone.� He can feel Bruce�s breath against his throat.


�I would have torn him apart for hurting you.�


�I know.�


He can�t explain why he didn�t just reach out to Bruce, to Cap, to Fury who was probably still banging his head against the hull of the helicarrier at Tony�s actions. Maybe it was the memory of New York, so entwined with his feelings for Bruce. He just needed to do something alone, to die trying or come out alive and triumphant, to prove to himself that he was still Iron Man, that he could still win. Now New York is just a city again, his home, and his feelings for Bruce are free to strengthen and grow. He thinks this as Bruce pulls away from him, apologising, pulling back and into himself.




�What for?�


�It�s probably the last thing you need.�


Tony shrugs. �No big deal. Actually, it�s kind of nice to know you care.�


The way Bruce looks at him steps on his heart. �You know I do. You were the one who walked out.� It�s not an accusation, it�s simply the truth.


�I couldn�t sleep.�


�I know. I wasn�t....� He shakes his head, and Tony watches his gaze lower to his chest. �You did it.� There�s awe in his tone now, his fingers reaching out apparently of their own volition, dropping when they�re half an inch from the front of Tony�s shirt. With a sigh Tony makes a grab for Bruce�s hand and brings it to his chest, unfastening the top few buttons of his shirt with a few flicks of his fingers, pressing Bruce�s palm against the smooth skin where the arc reactor once sat. He lets him just feel his heart beating for half a minute, hoping that will ease some of the tension. �Are you...? Do you feel okay?�


Tony nods. �Better than I�ve been in a long time.�


�Why didn�t you ask for help, Tony?�


He stacks his hands on top of Bruce�s. �Something about America?� He shrugs. �It wasn�t your fight.�


�Your life was destroyed. How is that not my fight? Not our fight?�


�It wasn�t destroyed.�


�The Mandarin blew up your house and almost killed you.�


�It was just a house.�


�What about everything in it? Your Dad�s car? The kids?�


Tony�s touched by the things Bruce thinks of as important in his life because they�re the things that are. He liked the house, a lot, he�d had some good times there and some really, really bad ones. But if he wanted he could build another. What was in it was just stuff. Most of it.


�My Dad�s car was already here. I had it shipped out after the battle... I thought tinkering with it would help like it used to but it didn�t. And I got Dum-E and Butterfingers out. They need some repair but they�re not exactly complex machines. Everything else... was just stuff. I can buy more. Pepper�s okay, I�m okay. You�re here.�


�Stop sounding so well adjusted.� Bruce makes an abortive attempt to pull his hand back but Tony isn�t about to let go.


�You knew I was okay, right? JARVIS kept you informed?�


�He was in and out for a bit after the house was blown, but yeah, he kept me informed, kept promising me you were okay or still breathing at least. In Tennessee of all places.�


�So you were okay? Knowing I was okay?� He knows he�s clutching at straws, trying to ease the guilt because he knows damn well that Bruce was anything but okay with being stuck here, worried sick, with just snippets of updates from JARVIS. He didn�t need to say it. �Not enough, I know. I�m sorry.�


�It�ll never be enough unless I�m with you, Tony, you know that. The other guy could�ve helped.�


�I know.�


He takes a step forward, forcing Bruce�s arm to bend between them. �I could have helped you against the Mandarin.�


�Funny story about that, by the way, remind me to tell you....�


Bruce kissing him effectively shuts him up and he echoes the sentiment, relieved, meeting Bruce�s desperation halfway.


It quickly becomes something else, something more. Tony�s shirt is already half-off, Bruce frees his hand and undoes the rest of the buttons, man-handling him until he feels the sharp edge of a work bench at his ass. He gets his jeans off, managing not to break off from the kiss, and pushes up to sit on the surface, pushing away anything that might have been in his way. Glass smashes and metal crashes to the floor but neither of them pay it the slightest bit of notice. Bruce is right there with him, hands all over him as Tony gets rid of his shirt and pants.


Bruce�s mouth finally shifts to attack Tony�s throat and he takes the opportunity to glance about. There�s a can of oil behind and to the left of him. He reaches for it and flips open the cap. Bruce�s fingers close around his dick and he moves his mouth to Bruce�s ear to whisper, �You have to fuck me.�


Bruce gasps his breathless agreement and Tony squeezes the oil onto his fingers, reaching around to prepare himself before coating Bruce�s cock with the same stuff. He balances himself on the edge of the bench, wraps his legs around Bruce�s waist, staring at his face. He�s been in love with the guy from before he even met him but this is a slightly different Bruce Banner to the one he worked with on the helicarrier leading up to Loki�s attack, the one he brought home after the battle, and the fact that he�s been responsible for this shift in personality is something he�s going to have to think about later, when the man�s hard, thick dick isn�t pushing into his ill-prepared but far from unwilling body. He takes a couple of deep breaths and relaxes, clings to Bruce�s forearms where he�s leaning on the work bench, palms flat, fingers spread, muscles trembling with the effort.


Tony breathes and murmurs encouragement, sitting up to bite the soft flesh between his shoulder and his neck, Bruce�s resulting low groan pushes him to bite harder, to nip and kiss and lick wherever he can reach skin. Bruce somehow wraps a hand around his dick and he yells � actually yells � and comes hard, shaking through it, dropping to his back to let Bruce fuck him harder, just a couple of thrusts before he�s coming too, quiet like always, pulling Tony up to kiss him, wet and sloppy.



Every time they do this in the lab they agree it�s a bad idea but it doesn�t stop them from doing it again. There�s a wet room but it�s not really big enough for two so they take the elevator up to Tony�s floor stark naked and shower in his bathroom which Bruce said once has more floor space than his first apartment. There�s a walk-in shower big enough for an army. This is where the tenderness happens. They stand under the water, kissing and touching. There are no new scars. There are no old ones either. Bruce maps the places where they were, licks the pathways over Tony�s skin, places he�s memorised.


�Are you immortal now?� he asks as they towel one another dry. Tony shrugs. He honestly doesn�t know, hasn�t been brave or stupid enough to put that to the test which is unlike him. He�s just been enjoying being alive. �You don�t know. So act accordingly, okay?�


He kisses the tip of Bruce�s nose and gets a thwack on the hip with a towel. �Promise.�


�I love you, Tony. Please try to bear that in mind.�


He doesn�t say it much, so it makes the times he does say it stick in Tony�s memory. He stops, throws his wet towel into the Jacuzzi and kisses Bruce on the mouth, just a press of lips, no tongue, it�s not sexy but it�s not meant to be. The briefest of touches can set them off and he just wants Bruce to know how much those words mean to him, how this thing between them isn�t only about the physical.


Bruce seems to get it. He smiles and nods and walks away, into the bedroom where Tony watches him help himself to Tony�s wardrobe. It�s taken months to get him this comfortable here, Tony has a flash of worry about the possible consequences of anything like Malibu happening to the tower. He can only hope it�s him, and possibly the others, not the bricks and mortar surrounding them that�s had such a marked change on Bruce�s outlook on life.


�Is anyone else around?� Tony asks as they make their way through into his kitchen. JARVIS has ordered in and the fridge is stocked. He makes waffles, smothers them in maple syrup and they sit in the lounge and eat them with a fresh pot of coffee.  It�s barely early enough for anyone else in the tower to be awake.


�Steve�s still living in his apartment on the eightieth floor although he went on vacation a couple of weeks ago and hasn�t come back yet. Fury�s presumably keeping tabs so I�m assuming he�s okay. Clint�s here, living on eighty-two. He makes incredible waffles, did you know that?� Tony scowls. �He and Phil are working things out slowly.�


�Yeah? Good.�


�Well, Clint can hold a grudge like no one I�ve ever met, but I think he�s more angry at Fury than anyone else. They went out on a date the other night so I guess that�s progress.�


�Clint and Fury?�


�Clint and Phil, idiot.�


�Your sentence structuring sucks.�


�Your waffles are too heavy.�


Silence follows but it�s far from uncomfortable.


When they�re out of waffles and they�re on their second cups of coffee, Bruce prompts him, �You said there was a funny story about the guy who blew up your house and tried to kill you?�


Tony rolls his eyes at Bruce�s tone but it�s okay this morning because he�s alive and okay and here. �You�d presumably heard of Aldrick Killian?�


Bruce nods. �When he first set up AIM there were a lot of questions asked about how they were safe-guarding their research and the steps they were taking to get patents. I don�t think anyone believed he was dangerous in the way he turned out to be, just that he might have been cutting corners. Mind you, we all were.�


�He was the Mandarin.�




�There was no international terrorist.�


�The guy with the beard?�


�An actor. Mad as a bag of cats, higher than this tower. Rhodey almost shot him out of sheer frustration.� Bruce�s smile wasn�t the belly laugh he�d been expecting. �It was funny at the time.�


Bruce is looking down at his empty plate. �I�m glad Rhodey was there with you. I�m glad you weren�t alone.�  


It�s the way he says it, with just a touch of bitterness. He�s such a lovely guy. It�s taken Tony a while to believe that he, genius billionaire playboy philanthropist asshole, has got this lucky. He smiles, rolls his head over the back of the couch to look at Bruce, then leans in to kiss his neck. He�s wearing one of Tony�s white shirts with loose jeans and Tony�s half-thinking about nailing him here on the couch. �You�re gorgeous when you�re jealous.�


�I�m not jealous.�


�Six months ago you didn�t want to fight, now you�re complaining that I didn�t call in the Other Guy?�


�Six months ago I didn�t feel this way about a guy in a metal suit who seems incapable of not shooting his mouth off to every bad guy that comes along, and � I might add � the world�s media.�


�I thought there was a terrorist threat.�


�When in actual fact it was an actor and an experiment gone wrong. Still could have called me.�


�I figured there were already enough people around that I�d slept with.� Bruce�s expression alone is enough to tell him what he thinks of that quip. �Sorry, but an old flame turned up and tried to kill me too. Tied me to an iron sprung bed with plastic zip ties.�


�You have a seriously kinky past.�


Tony leans over and bites Bruce�s earlobe. �And now I have you.�


Bruce chuckles. �Thank you for that.�


Tony lays his head on Bruce�s shoulder and is happy when Bruce turns slightly, gets an arm around his shoulders and hugs him. �Seriously. I was in a bad place, you know I was. It�s why I had to go back to Malibu. I didn�t want to get you involved. I�ll tell you everything tomorrow, I promise. I�ll go into so much detail you�ll get bored and fall asleep listening. But it was bad enough that I put Pep in danger, that I was almost responsible for her getting killed. I couldn�t put you in the same position.�


�You might have noticed - I am capable of taking care of myself.�


�Not against this guy. You should have seen him at the end. I didn�t think anything was going to stop him.�


�I could have stopped him. Well, the Other Guy could�ve stopped him.�


�I don�t know. He might have even been too much for both of you and if he�d managed to hurt you it would have been bad. You didn�t see him.�


�You don�t have to protect me.�


Tony finds Bruce�s hand on his shoulder, laces their fingers together and holds on. �I�ve only just got rid of my New York nightmares, don�t make me imagine more.�




�Did you tell Pepper about us?�


And damn it, he knew there was something he was meant to do when he got to Malibu. It just never came up. Of course, it�s never likely to unless Pepper catches them actively making out, because telling the woman in your life that you�ve met a guy and fallen in love with him and please is it possible to be with them both as long as they remain on opposite coasts isn�t really a conversation opener.


Tony looks up as casually as he�s able from the innards of the first robot he ever made and smiles apologetically at his lover. �Er, no. Not yet. Sorry. Why?�


�I picked up your phone this morning and she told me to tell you that, and I quote, �the big green monster wasn�t really necessary��


Tony laughs. �She�s not referring to you, Grasshopper. She�s talking about the T-Rex I had shipped as kind of a joke.�




�Yeah, see, I bought her a twenty foot rabbit....�


�You did what?�


�Like I said, I was in a bad place. I thought she�d like it but she didn�t. Although I secretly think she did. But it got blown up so I wanted to send her a replacement as a joke but they were out of rabbits so I sent a dinosaur.�


�You sent your girlfriend a twenty foot dinosaur?�


�Are you jealous? Would you like one?�


He watches Bruce shake his head and leave the lab, and he smiles to himself. He�s no idea how long he can keep both of them, or what will happen when Pepper finds out about Bruce, but every minute he spends back in New York he knows he�s falling ever deeper in love with the guy. Eventually something�s got to give.




�Were you actively knapping?�


Bruce rubs his eyes and Tony smiles. They�ve barely slept since he got back to New York and the reason for that has nothing to do with nightmares. Bruce leans forward, says something about temperament then smiles.


�You really think I�d fall asleep when you�re spilling your most intimate thoughts?�


Tony leans forward and kisses him.




Four weeks pass and Tony well and truly settles. Bruce has more or less moved into his apartment in the tower, even though they�ve never discussed it. At night they sleep together and during the day they work together, when they�re not fucking like energiser bunnies on any surface that will hold their joint weight and on some that, as it turns out, won�t. Tony�s never had a lab partner before but they work in beautiful synchronicity. They can move around one another without a word or talk across the lab without needing to look up. Bruce is more on his wavelength than anyone he�s ever met and it�s like a drug, an addiction. The more he has of it, the less he feels able to give it up. But he�s Tony Stark, so he doesn�t have to give it up.


Dum-E and Butterfingers are fixed, good as new and no better. They�re not meant to be intelligent or even useful, they are what they are, but that still doesn�t stop Tony yelling at them from the first moment they�re powered on. He introduces them to Bruce, tells them they need to do the opposite of everything Bruce says the way they do the opposite of everything he says. In the first hour Dum-E burns six slices of toast in rapid succession and Butterfingers breaks a quarter-of-a-million dollar sensor.


Yeah, life�s perfect.


Tony makes his mind up one random afternoon after they�re back from a morning briefing at SHIELD HQ. They have dinner plans. Steve�s invited the team, such as they are, and they think maybe he�s finally got round to asking out that waitress who was fawning over him in the media for weeks after the battle. Tony left New York partly because being around the rest of them reminded him of flying a nuke through a wormhole into outer space before passing out and falling back to earth. But it�s actually nice now, having them around, sharing little bits of their lives, sharing it all with Bruce. Life in Malibu feels like a different country he doesn�t have any urge to return to. He�s spoken to Pepper but their calls have become fewer, shorter and more about work, less about sex.


In the lab he stands against a workstation with one hip against the metal surface and his arms crossed, watching Bruce with Dum-E and Butterfingers. They�re helping him with an experiment that�s going to go wrong at any moment being as Tony�s two useless robots are both holding fragile test tubes. But Bruce�s instructions are quiet and precise, he�s not barking commands at them the way Tony does or expecting them to know what he wants. Then Tony realises it isn�t an experiment, Bruce is teaching them to work together, one pouring the contents of his test tube into the other�s and back again, back and forth, learning how to co-ordinate, how to be careful.


�Wow.� It�s all Tony can think to say, and it makes Bruce look up and smile at him in a way that makes his heart beat faster. �All they�ve ever done for me is set me on fire and hose me with foam.� It�s not true, Dum-E actually saved his life once and that�s part of the reason he rescued them from the wreckage in Malibu, but it�s not the point.


�They�re like anything run by software,� Bruce explains patiently and calmly, �they just need clear and concise instructions.� He glances up at Tony accusingly and Tony notes the look, shrugs and grins back.


�Hey, just because I think fast....�


�And talk fast. They can�t process at the speed we do.�


�You�re amazing.� Bruce looks up at him and half-smiles in his patented way of deflecting any kind of compliment. �Bruce, listen...�


He holds up his hands. �Don�t, Tony. If you�re leaving again, just leave.� Strange how the guy known for his vanishing act is the one who�s been able to stay put all this time.


�I�m not leaving.� He walks over slowly, rests his hand on the robot arm he built and named and salvaged and talks to all the time. �I�m staying. And I... I want to stay with you.� He�s fairly certain this isn�t coming out right. �What I�m trying to say is ��


�Sir. I apologise for interrupting but Colonel Rhodes is in reception.�


Tony looks up and yells, �Timing!�


�I thought perhaps you needed rescuing from the hole you were digging for yourself. May I suggest, Sir, that after everything Doctor Banner went through when you were in Tennessee, a simple admission of affection would suffice?�


Bruce�s head snaps up, first to look at the ceiling, then to look at Tony.


�Remind me to reprogram you, J,� he mutters, then points back towards the elevator. �I should....� Bruce nods and smiles and he hesitates long enough to nod and smile back. This is why he loves Bruce, because they understand one another. �I�ll introduce you.�


�Are you sure? He�s from your other life and prior to now you haven�t exactly been eager for the two to overlap.�


�I�m here now. I don�t have another life. Malibu�s over.� He hesitates, but he knows it�s true when he says, �You�re my life now.� Then he leaves the lab before Bruce can ask him what the hell he means by that.




It�s good to see Rhodey. He�s been there through the really bad times, he�s a friend Tony can count on to always come after him, to always be there for him, no matter what. They share a hug in reception. He has no idea what his old friend is doing here but Malibu had to catch up with him eventually and it isn�t even that he ran from there the way he ran from here months ago, when no one chased him because only Bruce knew he�d gone and Bruce knew he wasn�t welcome to follow.


�What are you doing here?� Tony asks him and makes it sound friendly.


�Pepper said you�re not rebuilding the house in Malibu,� Rhodey explains, and while his tone stays light Tony can hear the accusation loud and clear. �I happened to be over here and I thought I�d swing by and say hi. Nice pad by the way, a bit understated for you.� That is a joke and Tony laughs.


�It did have my name in lights on the side but that got destroyed in the battle.�


�You didn�t put it back?�


�Thought about it, but the �A� seems more fitting.�


�Why�s that?�


�Because other Avengers treat the place like a hotel.� He delivers the line like it�s a joke but it�s not and they both know it. This is where their friendship deviates and Tony�s truly sorry for that but if he�s here permanently he needs to find a way of making it work. �Why don�t I give you the tour?�


There�s a communal living space on the eightieth, the same floor Steve�s apartment is on. Clint and Phil are sprawled on the couch in the lounge. Phil�s still on medical leave and apparently Clint�s forgiven him because the way they�re all twisted up together with Clint�s legs over Phil�s knees and Phil�s arms around Clint�s waist. Tony doesn�t recognise the movie they�re watching on the insanely big screen, but Tom Cruise is doing some insanely lurid dance in front of Matthew McConaughey and the two SHIELD agents are laughing like hyenas. He introduces Rhodey to the international assassin and his lover-cum-handler in the hope that he�ll understand that they may be superheroes but they�re still just people. He hopes he can understand that when he meets Bruce.


Steve�s in the kitchen making coffee. He�s in a blue T-shirt and jeans and looks just like a regular person. He chats to Rhodey, asks him about the Iron Patriot and the Mandarin � Tony�s told the story so many times yet they still don�t believe him but Rhodey backs him up even if it does sound like fiction.


Then Tony takes him down to the lab he shares with Bruce. He�s still trying to train the robots, bouncing a ball between them and letting them catch it or chase it. Something�s going to get broken but Tony�s never cared about things like that. He loves that Bruce is taking an interest in the kids. It�s a metaphor he can get behind.


 �You dug them out of the wreckage.� Rhodey points out with a smile on his face and Tony nods. �What else did you rescue?�


�Nothing.� He steps forward and Rhodey follows. �Rhodey, this is Doctor Bruce Banner. Bruce, meet Colonel James Rhodes. Iron Patriot.�


Rhodey pulls a face as they shake hands. �I think they�re going back to calling me War Machine. You know, I�ve known these two forever and I�ve never seen them do anything this intricate before.�


Bruce gives Rhodey the same explanation as he gave Tony.


�That�s amazing,� he unwittingly echoes Tony, and it sounds like he means it. It makes Tony feel warm inside because he needs Rhodey and Bruce to get along, they have to get along because Rhodey�s going to be in his life, going to be at his side during the battles Bruce can�t be. He�s one lucky son-of-a-bitch to have the friends he has.


When they�re back up in the kitchen, Rhodey says, �You�re staying here.� It�s not quite a question, not quite a statement.


But Tony nods. �Yeah.�


�What about Pepper?�


Tony knows the answer to that, but it�s something he needs to say to Pepper before he says it to anyone else. �I lived here before the battle,� he points out. �We managed then. She travels a lot, I travel a lot.� 


Rhodey looks like he�s about to say something about that but a burst of laughter comes from the lounge and that seems to change his tack.


�So, you don�t mind sharing your place?�


Tony smiles with a shake of his head. �It�s ninety-two stories high. And this is the communal area. I do have the penthouse apartment which is private.�


�Even from Doctor Banner?�


There it is. He knew Rhodey wouldn�t disappoint him. He smiles wanly. �No.�


�I knew there was something, Tony. When you came back to Malibu it was if you�d left a part of you here, and not the superhero part of you. It was something else, something deeper. I didn�t ask; I knew if you wanted to talk about it you would. Don�t think I was quite expecting this but he�s down there working with your robots, using your stuff and you don�t share easily, Tony - I should know. So I�m guessing that makes him very special.� Tony nods. �You know... there are stories about him. Are you sure he�s safe to be around?� He just needs to pull a face. �Don�t look at me like that. I know, he�s a superhero and he seems like a nice guy but I worry about you.�


�No need. At the end of the battle, the Hulk saved my life. Even if something happens, he won�t hurt me.�


�A few of the upper echelons of the military have real hard-ons for Doctor Banner.�


That�s one fight Tony�s looking forward to having. �They can go fuck themselves. Seriously. Anyone lays a finger on him, I�ll kill them. He�s not a lab experiment. He�s the sweetest guy I�ve ever met and he�s my friend.�


�Just your friend?� Tony didn�t need to answer that. �See, this is what I don�t get. I�ve known you what? Forever? And I know you don�t discriminate in who you sleep around with but this... this kinda feels more serious.�


�Because he�s a guy?�


�Because you�re being very coy about it, Tony. And I thought you and Pepper....�


�We were. In Malibu.�


�But you�re not in Malibu. And you don�t intend to go back.�


�I know.� He nods, elbows on the counter and chin in his hand. �I need to call her.�


Rhodey stares. �You�re dumping Pepper for a guy?�


Tony chuckles. �I�d die for Bruce, and you know how much I love being alive. Unfortunately, she�s not a price I�m not willing to pay.�


�He asked you to?�


�He would never, ever think to ask me for anything.�




They lie in bed together that night, sated and sweat-damp from exhaustion, Bruce lying on his front with Tony on his side next to him, fingers splayed on Bruce�s shoulder.


�I was having nightmares that were so intense they brought the armour to the room. Can you imagine what that would have done for you? Being attacked by an Iron Man suit at three in the morning? Pepper just freaked out and went to sleep in another room. With you we�d have been remodelling every other day.�


Bruce sees right through it. �Yes, I can look after myself. Yes, if one of your suits attacks me the very worst that�s going to happen is another hole in your tower. So if you need to be with Pepper, I�ll leave with that, but don�t use your neurosis as an excuse not to be with me.�


Tony sighs softly. �I don�t need to be with Pepper. I called her. I told her about you. She told me she didn�t want to see me again for a while so I think we can safely say it�s over.�


Bruce looks back, frowning, and that isn�t the reaction Tony expected. �I�m so sorry....�


�I�m not. I couldn�t have you both and as much as I love Pepper, for whatever reason, I love you more. You need to believe that and remember it every day because I�m not an easy guy to be with and I will drive you insane.�


He looks like he didn�t know if it was okay to smile. Instead he says, �You�ll drive me insane? You�ll note I�ve been living alone and on the run for years? And you�ve met my worse half, right?�


Tony reaches out and combs his fingers through the thick salt and pepper hair above Bruce�s ear. �Hey! No insulting the Hulk, okay? And no putting yourself down. You�re with me now and I�m fucking fantastic, which means you must be too.� He finally gets Bruce to smile.


�I can�t believe what you�ve given up for me.�


�Believe me, I only ever give up stuff if I�m forced to or if I think I�m going to get something out of it. I�m not an altruistic guy. Being with you has its own rewards, and I�m not talking about your brain � although it�s really hot to finally be with someone who can understand me without the need for everything to be dumbed down � and it helps of course that you�re real easy on the eyes, you�ve got a phenomenal body and you�re incredibly adventurous in bed.� Bruce clearly doesn�t know what to do with any of that. Tony scoots forward and touches his lips to Bruce�s mouth. �Look at everything you�ve given up for me,� he whispers and he hopes they�re going to be okay because he really, really wants them to be.