Strong Independent White Boys (who don't need no sophistication)
Tony decided early on in life that the less people were involved in his daily life, the better. This translates to everything being run by JARVIS, and occasionally Pepper. Therefore Bruce arrives with little fanfare. He is in the system and passes both the retinal and biochemistry scans at the door. These days JARVIS doesn't even bother to announce him. He's part of the household, more or less. Bruce pretty much comes and goes as he pleases and Tony thinks that's a bit of all right. So, when Bruce walks in he drops his jacket on a nearby chair and pads into the kitchen on socked feet. Really, they may as well move in together and get it over with, Tony thinks.
Bruce doesn't greet Tony in the usual way when he sees him slouching against the kitchen counters, which is a shame. Rather, he maneuvers the two of them to the sitting room sofa and lays Tony out on it. He then takes a seat at one end and does something magical—he takes hold of a foot and begins to knead.
Tony loses it just a little.
"Is there any noise in your repertoire that doesn't sound vulgar?"
"Not in your presence there isn't," Tony answers, exaggerating a groan for effect. "How's Gotham?"
"Much the same as you left it."
Tony smiles with his eyes closed. "Shame."
"Burning my city to the ground will not endear you to me," Bruce warns him.
"Drat, foiled again. How's Alfred?"
"He sends his love."
Tony opens one eye and attempts to convey his disbelief. He realises he's trying to stare down Batman but he's nothing if not ambitious. It did after all snag him the world's second-most eligible bachelor.
"He baked you a pie," Bruce elaborates.
"Holy shit, you aren't even kidding. Wow. Wow. I've been approved by your butler. Wow."
Bruce tickles his foot mercilessly—the bastard—and they engage in a short scuffle for possession. Bruce, naturally, wins.
"One down, six billion to go."
"Hey," Tony protests, sitting up. "There have got to be more people who approve of me. Three more at the very least. Maybe four."
"Pepper might like you enough to put up with you, but she certainly doesn't approve of you."
"And I don't even want to know where you got the idea James approves of you. Or that I do."
"Heresy!" Tony exclaims, pointing an accusing finger at Bruce. Bruce pretty much ignores him and continues the foot massage. "I'm surrounded by liars and traitors." Tony falls back on the sofa and throws an arm over his face. "Woe! Such woe is me."
"Your life is very, very hard," Bruce agrees.
"Money in the bank, hot babe in my bed, and the most superlative jetpack-slash-prosthesis on the entire planet—I don't know how I'll survive."
"I didn't know they taught drama at MIT."
Tony kicks him a little. "They didn't, at least I don't remember it if they did. In my case it's just natural talent."
"It's certainly something."
"Did you bring me more of that tea? I left my stash back west." Bruce stops kneading which is not on, so Tony kicks him again to get that across. He's tickled in retaliation but gets his way in the end, as usual. "Well?" he prods.
"You hate that tea," Bruce finally says.
"Do not," he denies indignantly. "I love that tea truly, madly, deeply. My favourite person ever had some wise man on top of a mountain far, far away devise this tea especially for my benefit. Of course I love that tea!" he says in tones of see, I really am a full person.
"Pepper coached you on that, didn't she."
He decides to repeat his performance of woe. "Oh my god why do I even like you!"
Bruce squeezes his foot viciously. "Because I don't put up with your shit and you have a weakness for pectoral girth." He even does the muscle-jiggle to illustrate said girth.
"Yeah, okay," he says, because, well, true.
"Now, have we filled the prerequisite chitchat quotient or do I need to comment on the atrocious draperies before you actually talk to me?"
"Okay," Tony sighs, heaving himself up, "that's not a laying down conversation."
"Should I be worried?" Bruce asks and while he sounds amused enough, Tony can tell he's bothered. He resists the urge to coo. One does not coo at Batman.
"Don't imply there's anything about me you don't know, Bat-detective." He raises his arms up in a preemptive block just in case. He is not wrong. "No, okay, sorry, sorry. I'll talk."
"I can't believe I'm saying this," Bruce mutters. "Please, do."
"Do you like this house?" Tony blurts out. "I mean, sure, it's been Peppered to death which means it's cutting edge yet classy, and JARVIS makes everything better, but do you like it?"
"Personally I think it's a little unimaginative, but what can you expect of the nineteenth century, right?"
He takes a breath. "The thing is—"
"The thing is I might be moving here," he rushes to say. "Sort of permanently."
Bruce is quiet. He's really good at it too, unlike Tony, who can't manage to not be doing or saying something for more than five seconds unless he's unconscious.
"You're joining the Avengers. Again."
Tony swallows past the tightness in his throat. "I'm joining the Avengers."
"Don't I get a pat on the back?" he wheedles, but really he's testing the waters.
Bruce snorts at him. Well that's definitely not good. "You don't need me to validate your self-flagellation Tony. Please don't ask me to want to."
His first instinct is to flinch. Yeah, no, Tony Stark does not flinch. "Pot," he accuses.
Bruce smirks. "It certainly is my favourite colour."
Tony waits for some monologuing about his flaws and mistakes but apparently Bruce is not feeling very loquacious. Although he does learn one thing—he has really got to be less obvious when it comes to Bruce Wayne. The prince of Gotham rolls his eyes at him and flicks him on the nose.
"There. I don't want to chastise you like a child because you aren't one and it certainly isn't my place to chastise you even if you were, but if you feel you must be punished somehow, then so be it." He pauses to look stern. "I can also whack you with a newspaper, if you prefer."
Tony really, really doesn't want to think about any of the things Bruce just said. He latches on to the first thing that comes to mind instead. "You know, I'm dating the fetish bat. A little kink might be healthy for this relationship. How about you come punish me in the creative way I know you can?" he leers.
Again, Bruce catches on lighting fast. This time though, the consequences are much more preferable.
Pepper is wearing black. A starched shirt which is all angles and sharp edges, and perfectly pleated trousers. He notices they're perfectly pleated because her shoes are extra spiky today and he is a cautious individual. Even her hair is pulled back tightly with a black tie. Tony can only conclude that Pepper is unhappy with him.
Naturally this doesn't show in her work. Pepper is a tornado of terrifying efficiency regardless of state of mind, and if to achieve said efficiency she needs to run roughshod over his feelings, so much the better.
"Not the purple. It brings out the bags under your eyes."
He's not a delicate blossom, really he isn't. It's just that if Pepper gets her way, he'll be heading off to SHIELD headquarters in his jammies (which is to say naked). "You really need to give me a hint here," he says. "I could start indiscriminately buying you diamonds again, but the last time I did that you told me to grow a soul despite it being a tried and true method for gaining forgiveness which men have utilized since the dawn of time."
"I can't say I understand just what you mean, Mr Stark. No, no, the blue makes you look sallow."
"That's it." He bunches up the shirt and throws it across the room. "I'll just have to become a naturist, but you get to explain to Fury why."
"This is not the time for shenanigans Mr Stark," she says implacably.
A sardonic little laugh calls attention to the one and only Bruce Wayne, who's been quietly enjoying the show in Tony's sweats (the lucky bastard). Tony doesn't kid himself into thinking Bruce stayed for his benefit. He knows Bruce wants to stick around so he's there when the Avenger initiative proves to be as big a disaster as he thinks it'll be because Tony would have done the same.
Hell, he's still waiting in the case of Kevlar versus Iron Man suit.
"Bruce, be an angel and save me from flashing Nick Fury because Pepper is a meanie." He throws in a pout and eyelash-flutter to ensure victory. Then he remembers. "Please."
"Don't wear a suit," Bruce tells him, which is all kinds of unhelpful. He follows it up with, "You don't have to impress them with your eagerness to belong," which is.
"You're saying jeans and T-shirt, then?"
Bruce touches his forehead and mutters something to himself. "All right. Where is your closet?" He reconsiders and turns to Pepper. "Does he own any thin scarves? How about long sleeved shirts? We're looking for layers here. Maybe dressy sportswear, that kind of thing."
Tony looks on in bafflement. "Nothing you just said makes any sense to me. Why do you even know these things?"
"It's a good thing I require no input from you then, isn't it?" Bruce tells him. He and Pepper disappear into the closet—and of course he thinks of a million horrible jokes, why is his brain such a dick? After some deliberation, he follows after them.
The minute they spot him he's seized and dragged into position where after they commence with the most scarring Barbie doll dressing session of Tony's life. Clothes are flying everywhere, Pepper and Bruce are conversing entirely in grimaces and noises of disapproval, and all this time Tony doesn't see a damn thing because he's being spun and dressed/undressed at insane speed. Honestly, he's beginning to fear for his life a little here.
Finally they step back, inspect him critically with their judging eyes, then nod.
Apparently he shouldn't have been fearing for his life, merely his dignity.
"I look gay."
"Yes," Bruce and Pepper chorus.
"Why?" he cries.
"It makes a statement," Bruce says seriously.
Tony almost goes for it. It would send Fury into a shitfit to be sure and Rogers might just choke on his tongue, and while those are all good incentives it's not enough. Objectively he looks damn good, of course he does.
"It's not me," he says.
"You're sure about that?" Bruce asks him. God, really? He needs to ask?
"Of course I am! Look at me, this is what Zachary Quinto would see if he looked into a mirror of the future. I'm like the aged lovechild of George Michael and John Barrowman," he splutters.
"Then get fucking dressed and go to prom, princess. Stop acting like an imbecile," Bruce says and flounces off dramatically. Pepper smirks at him and follows Bruce out.
Oh. Oh, they are good.
He takes a car and driver to SHIELD and convinces himself it's not because it makes him feel safer to show up with a babysitter like Bruce implied. Agent Supernanny is there to greet him when he arrives.
"Coulson, it's been far too long. I've missed fearing for my balls, I have, really. Pepper tries, but she's just not on the same level when it comes to intimidation," he babbles. "Dude, smile a little. You could freeze the piss inside of someone with that glare."
Coulson remains dour in the face of all of Tony's charm—not that he'd expected anything else, but it's a shame.
"Here is a temporary access pass. It will serve until a permanent one can be made for you," Coulson says, flicking a little plastic card at him. "Try your hardest not to lose it, break it, modify it, or otherwise cause me to have to interact with you more than strictly necessary."
Tony looks at him over the rims of his glasses. "I can recommend a great masseuse for that tension problem you seem to have. Great girl—decent rates, magical fingers. Just give me a call anytime. I'm here for you Coulson. I promise."
"They are waiting for you in meeting room six. Goodbye," Coulson says with no expression at all. Tony shrugs and swipes his card on the screen by the door.
"I can take a hint. See you around, dude."
Out of sight of Supernanny XL, Tony scans the card with his phone. It gives him a detailed map of all the places he's not allowed, which is most of them. It might be Coulson's idea of a joke but that would have to mean he has a sense of humour and he patently does not, so it's for real. He's not going to lie, he's a little hurt here.
Since Tony's been gone SHIELD security's been in the hands of SHIELD techs and private contractors. This means that by his standards, it's laughable at best. It was childish, he supposes, to leave them to their own devices when they fired him from the Avengers because he felt slighted by Fury and Rogers, yet if he thinks about it now all he really feels is nyah. Hey, they were fighting Nazis and serving the country long before he was born and can get on fine without him—only they can't.
It's not spite. It's not. He's seen better firewalls at Gotham kindergartens, surely that gives him some justification.
His little plastic guest pass lets him into the common areas and also meeting room six. He deliberates about giving his pass a few super abilities for all of five seconds. Of course he's going to do it. With what he's seen so far it would take SHIELD about a year to notice anyway.
"You're late. Come on, we're in here."
"It's nice to see you too, Banner," he says with exaggerated politeness.
Bruce sighs in a good imitation of annoyance. "It's been very quiet without you."
"Are we talking 'quiet like the grave' quiet, or quiet 'finally some peace and quiet'?" he asks lightly, following Bruce into the meeting room.
"There, he's here, can we get this over with now? I have a date with a gorgeous read-head and some mats," Clint exclaims the minute he spots Tony, gesturing widely.
"I had no idea you were so eager for another beating," Natasha says.
"His dedication speaks well of him," Thor adds solemnly, but he's smiling.
Tony can't help himself. He grins widely at the lot of them. "Is this all for me? You shouldn't have."
"No, we shouldn't. It's not like he's a newbie we need to intimidate into obedience. That never worked on Stark anyway," Clint grumbles.
Steve shifts in his seat. "It's the proper thing to do," he says, which shuts Clint up at least temporarily. Then he turns his baby blue eyes on Tony. "Welcome back."
Tony tells himself he's not been avoiding Steve's eyes. He hasn't been. He just hadn't noticed him because it's easy to overlook over two-hundred pounds of physical perfection, okay? These things happen.
"It's good to have you back, my friend," Thor booms at him.
Tony cringes a little but he's still smiling. It's hard not to smile at Thor. It's like kicking puppies or something. "I'm glad to hear you say that because I have the distinct impression Fury disagrees with you there. I'll be sure to use you as a meat-shield should he choose to express that."
Thor laughs while Steve scrambles to disagree. "Director Fury knows you're more than capable," he says.
"He just doesn't like you," Clint adds.
"This is touching, really," Tony says, wiping away an imaginary tear. "But I'm here now, so lay it on me," he says and sits down expectantly. He is not not looking at Steve. Thor is blocking the view with his godliness.
The Avengers kind of blink at him. Bruce picks at his fingernails. Natasha draws circles on the table with her finger. Thor is beaming.
"There is nothing to lay," Clint says finally in tones of utter boredom. "Nothing has changed."
"Clint," Steve says warningly, but Clint ignores the good Captain and ploughs on.
"Your locker is still here, untouched. There's an old MIT sweater on a hook in the gym which has been labelled Tony Stark. It's like the safest place in the world, because both Thor and Cap protect it with their lives." He huffs in annoyance and glares at Tony. "So yeah, nothing has changed."
Natasha nudges Clint. "That's not entirely true," she says meaningfully.
"Oh yeah, you take it up the ass now!" Clint cries happily. "Oh man, that was the best day ever. You could hear Fury swearing from two floors down. You should have seen Steve's face when he got out of that office, it was priceless." He collects himself and turns serious. "I'm going to ask something now and you're not allowed to think it makes me a girl because this is purely out of the goodness of my heart as taught to me during that respect in the workplace seminar and no mushy feelings for you whatsoever. Here goes; is he a gold-digging bitch?"
"Is Bruce Wayne a gold-digging bitch?" Tony repeats sort of incredulously while Natasha whacks Clint over the head.
"Ouch, what? What's with the looks? He's an Avenger now. You wouldn't stand by and let a gold-digger take advantage of Steve."
Tony has no words, not even about the re-instated Avenger comment because he's too busy trying to pick his jaw up off the floor. Natasha is trying very hard not to laugh and Steve looks as lost as Tony feels.
"Barton, Bruce Wayne owns Wayne Enterprises," Banner explains patiently. "We're looking at you like that because Bruce Wayne has the disposable income of Scrooge McDuck."
"Together we're richer than god," Tony adds cheerfully.
Clint hums thoughtfully at this information. "I hereby invite you and your boyfriend to my birthday, for Christmas, and any other gift-giving holiday I can think of."
"I'm so glad to hear you have sound priorities, Agent Barton," Steve grumps, and wait a minute—is he sulking? He is definitely sulking. Tony swallows an evil cackle. Now here is some potential.
"Didn't you just hear what I heard? More money than god," Clint says.
"I'll see what I can do." He winks at Steve. "Don't you worry Cap, I'll be sure to invite myself and my boyfriend to all your birthdays." He smirks because he's a smug bastard and Steve is blushing.
"Well,"Steve says, pushing himself up, "we'd best fill you in on everything you've missed."
Clint snorts. "I bet his boyfriend fills him just fine."
Steve splutters while Banner looks Zen and Natasha rolls her eyes. Thor is quietly amused and Clint is doing a weird fist-pump of victory. Tony is laughing, because he is back and everything is just fine.
Bruce is waiting for him out front in a sleek little convertible that gives him just the right dash of sexy boy-toy. The shades are a nice touch.
Of course Bruce has zero clearance so Tony has to walk through all the checkpoints on foot before he can even see his present for being oh so good. It's worth it just to see Bruce reclining nonchalantly while surrounded by agents and military types.
"You'd have been proud of me today," he says before he swoops in for a kiss.
Bruce endures the display with good grace. He's probably seething inside but Tony will take all he can get and then ask for more. It's just how he rolls, all right?
"I doubt that."
"No really—ow, crap—you would. Their security is for shit—why is there a can on my seat? Damn it. So, listen, I think we need to inspect the new bath I had installed," he rambles on.
Bruce rolls his eyes at him and gets them the fuck out of there with minimal tire damage. Man, Tony is really in love. "Hey, guess what—Clint asked me if you're just with me for my money."
"Nope, your ass," Bruce deadpans. "I keep a laminated collage of paparazzo shots of it in my wallet."
Seriously, Tony has hearts in his eyes and shit.
If he'd believed that everything would suddenly be all right now he's back with the initiative he would be sorely disappointed. Pepper still hounds him day and night about Stark Industries only she's stepped it up with the excuse of trying to get as much done as she can before he dies tragically at the hands of some supervillain or another. She has already made him update his will and all of a sudden it's perfectly acceptable for him to coexist with the robots in his workroom as long as he keeps making things she can use. Bruce is still Bruce only now there are these looks which feel a little like an x-ray and cavities search in one like he's just waiting to be proven right. Tony has mixed feelings about all of these things.
The one perk he can't deny is the proximity to Gotham. It's a hop and skip away from NY to Gotham and he's taking advantage of that every chance he gets. He likes to think Bruce is silently pleased with this, but chances are he's just resigned to being pestered more than before.
On Tony's end it's something akin to watching a terrifying documentary on workaholism.
It's the ass-crack of dawn. He feels the bed dip beside him and forces himself to open an eye. If there's something he's not willing to do again it's wake up in sheets that look like the end result of a vampire porno, something Bruce is incapable of giving a shit about—much like his own physical well-being.
"Rough night?" he croaks without feeling the least bit humiliated at his lack of verbal proficiency. They have evolved past all pretense at charm and perfection and are comfortable with (Tony) or accustomed to (Bruce) each other's deficiencies.
"Just long," Bruce sighs. There is no groaning or weird tension to indicate some injury Bruce is failing to hide from him, so Tony relaxes.
"Think you can sleep?"
Bruce shifts a little. Right, so it's like that. Tony sits up and shuffles over to where Bruce is sitting. He drapes himself over that powerful back like a blanket, his arms dangling over tense shoulders. They breathe together until he feels Bruce's heart rate slow to something resembling normal.
"They had three girls in a warehouse. By the time I arrived, he'd amputated the legs off two of them—Carrie Holt and Miranda Jones. The idea was to send the limbs to the fathers as incentive."
In that moment Tony hates Gotham fiercely with everything he is. He has learned better than to mention that, however, so he sits there, breathing into Bruce's skin and trying his very best to keep the tension out of his body and the anger away from his mind.
"Gordon was there to take them in. He is a good man."
Tony hears the bits Bruce doesn't say.
"I wanted them dead," he hears.
"Gordon is the reason they're alive," he hears.
"I am a monster," he hears.
"What about the third girl?" he asks even though he knows. He's known for days because it's all Bruce has been doing for days.
"Frances Livingston," Bruce tells him. "Her father's a banker. She was taken by mistake."
"They're all alive, I assume."
"Yes," Bruce breathes.
"Well," Tony says resolutely, pretending for all he's worth that it's just another night, "we'd better step up our prosthetics venture. Get to sleep. We have a shit ton of work and I am a beast without my beauty sleep." Bruce huffs a little laugh at him. "Hey, you don't know what it's like! I'm dating this young stud and he'll drop me like a bad habit if I don't keep my girlish figure and rugged good looks," he whines.
Bruce relaxes minutely turning the slouch into something more like a hug. "You're an oxymoron."
"Baby, for you I'd be an ox and a moron as long as we can sleep. I have no doubt that Alfred will be here within the hour to kick me out like a stray dog polluting your stately manor and tomorrow will be a long day. If you remember, I'm the one who has to actually design the working prototype while all you have to do is sign things and smile for press releases."
Bruce relents, letting Tony drag him down into a pile of blankest and pillows (so he's a burrower, so what?). He'll hold on for as long as Bruce lets him. It's only fair when he knows Bruce is always there to catch him when he crashes.
Alfred doesn't show up until well past noon.
He's hanging out in the workshop of Stark Tower (Gotham Edition) when the calls comes.
"Hold that JARVIS, if I fuck this up I will slaughter whoever is on the other end of that line," he mutters. He's fiddling with bits no bigger than one-celled organisms and hating his tendency to over-complicate things. He doubts a prototype limb prosthetic actually needs to have the ability to anticipate brain impulses, but screw it, he's getting this done come hell or high water.
"It's Captain Rogers, sir. He says it's an initiative matter," JARIVIS relays. Tony promptly cuts a lightning bolt over his work.
"Motherfucker! Fine! Christ, put him on."
"It's just JARVIS, sir."
"Ha, ha," he spits, pushing everything on his workbench away. "'Sup, buddy?"
Steve is silent for a moment and Tony wonders if he's been hung up on. Then of course he remembers this is Steve.
An incredulous "You're in Gotham?" is the first thing out of Steve's mouth.
"JARVIS, visual," Tony mutters, and there he is, the super soldier himself. He, of course, is on the base. Tony looks to his left, then to his right. Then he looks straight at Steve. "Obviously."
Somehow, this takes Steve by surprise. Tony is a little confused but apparently he's not the only one.
He cocks his head. "Is that a rhetorical question? I live here. Well, part-time," he corrects.
"But," Steve splutters, then cuts himself off. "I'd expected you to be in New York."
"Welp, I'm not," Tony says, shrugging. "So what can I do for you?"
Steve glares at him. "You can come to New York."
It's Tony's turn to be surprised. "Okay, why?"
"Because you're supposed to be here!" Steve near-shouts at him. "You're a member of the Avengers, Stark. Your place is with us."
"That did not just happen." He takes a breath. "Rogers, my place is wherever I damn well choose to put myself. Right now that place is Gotham. Now if there's nothing pressing, I have work that needs doing."
Steve chuckles dryly, shaking his head. "I'd honestly thought it'd be different this time," he says. "It's why I asked Fury to call you back. I thought that maybe you'd grown up." He sighs. His eyes are really very blue. "You haven't changed, have you? You're still irresponsible and selfish."
Tony's eyes narrow. "And you're still a repressed dick, but have I called you on it? No. So do me the favour of leaving my personal life the fuck alone unless it interferes with the Avengers. Then and only then will your opinion of me make a difference because right now I give fuck all about what you think of me." He shoots Steve a tight smile and cuts the connection.
Clint was totally right. Nothing has changed at all.
"JARVIS, hold all calls and pull up playlist four. I'm getting this done." He snaps his fingers and motions Dummy II to come closer with the magnifying glass. "Please don't be useless like your big brother. Hold that. No. No, higher—hold. Good boy."
"Tony. Tony. Tony."
"Issat coffee?" he mumbles.
Pepper mercifully produces the four takeaway cups and lines them up on the empty bits of his workbench—he's finished one of them by the time she's done. He smiles at her in thanks although he's not entirely sure if that comes across right. He's almost certain his face is a dented mess of grease and red spots. By the feel of it, a burn mark or two aren't outside the realm of possibility either.
She takes a sniff and wrinkles her nose.
"Oh come on, it can't be that bad," he protests.
Pepper obviously disagrees. "You've been here for days. JARVIS wouldn't let anyone in. Have you even eaten?"
"Eh," he says nonchalantly.
No one can put that much meaning into his name, not even Bruce. Pepper has a way of imbuing her pronunciation with years of hardship and frustration topped with I Am Disappointed In You. Tony has the unshakable conviction that Pepper could broker world peace with a look and a well-placed sigh.
"You should shower, we need to be in New York in three hours. I'll have Happy run out for breakfast but we need to get moving."
Tony downs the rest of the coffee like he would shots and pushes himself out of his chair. There is a disturbing amount of popping joints and old-man pain which he ignores for the sake of his own sanity. "Which one is this? Refresh my memory while I shower," he tells her, already walking away.
He can feel the look on somewhere between his shoulder blades.
"The relevant papers are all in the car."
"Oh come on, not even a little peek? I know you want to," he says teasingly.
"No thank you, Mr Stark, but if you feel the burning desire to explore your exhibitionist tendencies I can set up a video conference to Wayne Tower?"
He laughs all the way to the shower. "Pepper, you are an inexhaustible fount of good ideas and this is why I love you best."
"And here I thought it was because of my tolerance for homo-eroticism."
He doesn't exactly have phone-shower-sex with Bruce because he's too busy being responsible.
"If you could have Lucius pack up everything on my workbench I'd owe him one. I need all of it in New York so I can finish it."
"I'll take care of it. It'll be there tonight at the latest," Bruce assures him.
Tony believes him. Out of everyone Bruce is least likely to berate him for overworking himself to the point of collapse because that would make him a filthy hypocrite. There's no need to actually go into the reasons he wants to work himself to oblivion because Bruce is also the most likely to berate him for avoiding the issue.
"Thanks honeybee. Talk to you soon."
Bruce laughs. "Oh, yes."
"Tony! We will not be late even if I have to drag you naked through the streets!"
"She really should just admit I make her moist," Tony says quietly.
"I bet you do," Bruce agrees dryly. "I bet you're the first thing she thinks of when she wakes up and the last thing she thinks of when she goes to bed."
"Don't be jealous baby, you'll always be my number one!" he shouts back at her.
That shuts her up for a bit, but it doesn't last.
Pepper has the magical ability to make threats sound actually reasonable. She does not use it this time.
"If you make me deal with the fallout of your public messy breakup with Bruce Wayne I will fill the Iron Man suit with gasoline and burn you to a crisp inside it!"
"Oh yeah," Bruce says, "you definitely light her fire."
The meeting is boring and superfluous. Unfortunately it is also in New York, which means he feels obligated to check in with SHIELD. This promises to be just as boring and superfluous but try as he might he just cannot shake that fucking conversation.
He knows what people think of him, all right? It's not a great mystery of mankind when it's been plastered all over newspapers and the Internet in equal measure. Yes, his image has been going through a rehabilitation process ever since he came out as first Iron Man and then boyfriend but that hardly negates years of bad opinions so no, he's hardly surprised it's followed him to SHIELD.
He's never tried to hide who he is anyway. It's just that he's not sure he is who Steve seems to think he is. At least he hopes he isn't. Is he? Well, what ever. It's not worth the head space it occupies as any space in his genius brain is prime real estate.
He arrives at SHIELD HQ and lets himself in with his still temporary pass. He tries not to over-think that one.
The team is lounging in front of a television and merely glance at him when he walks in. Steve especially is doing his best interpretation of a corpse. Oh, yeah, Tony can totally see how he's needed here. He inserts himself between Thor and Natasha and sets an alarm on his phone—he gives himself thirty minutes before the idiocy drives him to do something stupid, like set off the fire alarm.
"Hey, since you're back on the team does that mean I get to pulverise you in the name of physical training again? Awesome," Clint says suddenly.
Tony is ready to talk his way out of that one before Clint's even finished speaking. Then, he reconsiders. "If it's in the best interests of the team, then I guess so," he says instead.
Steve is frowning a little. Seriously, with those broody worry lines he looks more constipated than anything. Tony beams at him just for the hell of it. "Now, Clint," Steve says in this peacekeeping tone he sometimes has. It's exactly the opposite of what Tony was expecting, after their little tête-à-tête.
"What? He needs to be in shape. He's been out of it for months now, it's necessary," Clint argues with his mouth while his entire attitude is practically a manifesto extolling the virtue of kicking ass in the name of kicking ass. Tony huffs to hide his laughter, but it's in vain. They're all staring at him.
"I'm hurt that you seem to believe that just because I wasn't on the team I suddenly started eating burgers and watching daytime television to the exclusion of everything else."
Clint looks at Tony, then at Natasha. "Them's fighting words, right? I'm not 'misconstructing the situation' again, right?"
"Misconstruing," Natasha corrects him, "and I'm surprised you even remember that much from the seminar."
"I would be happy to observe your bout," Thor says, sealing the deal.
Bruce sighs, rolling his eyes, and disappears to his lab to meditate or smash it up. One can never be sure with him. "I'll alert medical," he mutters as he goes. The rest of them troop off to the gym like ducklings following momma duck Thor, who parts the halls like Nordic Moses.
Steve is hovering over Tony looking all grave. It's pretty hilarious, he's giving the regular personnel the creeps from what Tony can tell. He wishes it was all due to his amazing powers of observation, but they're scurrying out of the way like little woodland creatures instead of trained agents and it's really not because Thor is smiling like a child (which is so adorable it's making Tony consider Asgardian adoption and if that could be a thing he should look into).
They arrive, and there's a mass exodus.
Tony watches the departing agents with undisguised curiosity. "Since when have you been abusive towards the mere mortals, guys? I don't remember us inspiring this kind of terror before." Steve nearly collapses in on himself and Tony feels instantly guilty, but it passes with a flash of understanding. "No," he drawls. "No way." There is no way Captain America took out his issues on puny little humans. Scratch that—there's no way Steve Rogers did. And yet, it's staring him in the face.
Steve, of course, says nothing. Instead Natasha, scowly face and all, comes to his rescue.
"Efficiency of the agency has gone up a full twenty percent since you've left," she tells him flippantly, then skips off to find a good spot to watch.
Tony has no words. He raises his hands in surrender and starts stripping. Clint is ready to go but Tony will be damned if he ruins a silk shirt in the name of team building. "No permanent injuries," he calls out, just to make sure. Apparently not everything had stayed the same.
"Sissy," Clint taunts.
"I like my limbs where they are, thanks," Tony grumps and climbs in the ring.
Thor looks at them both solemnly which is hard for him, Tony knows. "Fight with honour, my friends."
"Until you cry uncle, right Stark?"
Tony smiles at him. "Come at me, bro."
He's a little sore which is negated entirely but how justifiably smug he is. Thor practically lit up the room he was so proud of Tony. Hell, even Tasha raised an eyebrow of appreciation when he dropped Clint with a particularly fine throw.
Clint never saw it coming which, hey, not his fault. His new sparring partner is the fucking Batman. It's their problem if they seem to think he's just a waste of space filling up a shiny armour. It was just the cherry on the sundae he needs to get all the fuel required to pull this shit off because he's an Avenger again but he's no longer sure what the hell that even means.
Speaking of his new sparring partner—never let it be said Tony Stark is above using any feeble excuse to get his way.
"They made me exercise. So I was thinking you could come down here and help me pick the best bath-salt muscle relaxant. Come on, I'm wearing a douchebag headset in accordance to traffic laws, I deserve a reward," he wheedles.
"You need a reward for obeying basic safety protocols now?"
Bruce is amused at him, he can tell. It's like this; Bruce wields his voice like a weapon and its uses are many. Tony is getting the hang of it now which makes communication so much more efficient, not to mention fun. "I want a reward for voluntarily looking like a douchebag," he says.
"You could have waited to get home before calling."
Tony clicks his tongue and makes a noise of disagreement. "No, I really couldn't have. You might forget about me and then what would I do?"
"Write some poetry, Stark. You certainly angst enough for it."
"Angst? Moi? You are delusional, honeybee. Listen, I've just arrived so I have to say sweet farewell for now, but think about it? I promise lots of perks."
"You always do," Bruce chuckles.
"And do I ever not deliver?"
"And you love it."
He hangs up to dump the car and get more comfortable before he launches attempt number two of getting Bruce to come see him. It's a very cunning plan which may or may not involve a lot of casual nudity. He's looking forward to it already.
There's no response. This is mildly unsettling.
"JARVIS, you there buddy?"
He feels a hand on his back and before he thinks, he moves. He twists and makes a grab for the arm but his opponent is quick and evades. Still keyed up from his earlier victory he just goes with it, falling into patterns he's learned from Bruce—Bruce! He freezes and is instantly captured. The soft laugh he knows so well tickles his cheek.
"I've thought about it," Bruce growls and it's the Bat voice. Tony shudders in his grip. For a second he thinks about how easy it would be for Bruce to just... not be the good guy. Just the idea makes him shiver before he discards it as impossible.
"H-have you now," he stutters, leaning his head against Bruce's shoulder, leaving his neck open. Bruce, not one to discard such an invitation, dives in for a nibble.
"Mhm. I have." He doesn't so much release Tony as reposition him, still holding him tightly. "I thought about it all day long."
"Oh, god, yes."
There's that soft laugh again and Bruce's fingers in his hair pulling him into a kiss.
He gets no warning before he's thrown over Bruce's shoulder and carried away. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
He does that from time to time. There's always a warning involved even though Tony's never said no. He's not entirely sure what would happen if he did (as unlikely as that is). It's not that he doesn't understand, because he does. He's perfectly aware that he's going to have sex with the Batman—not Bruce—and perfectly fine with it. He's even been expecting it, ever since that one night.
He's placed on the bed, not so much gently, but with a sense of purpose. There is still no light, and no sign of JARVIS. It's another one of those things that make him wonder just how brilliant Bruce really is, because it's not in JARVIS' programming to allow anyone but Tony to shut him down. Tony isn't worried.
Bruce leans in and takes his mouth again and again. Tony tries to keep up and automatically reaches out to grip whichever part of Bruce he can and hold him tighter, closer.
"You asked for it. Try not to regret it," Bruce whispers against his lips.
"Yeah, no, that's likely," Tony laughs.
Regret it? While he's being held like the most precious thing in the world and utterly possessed by the most amazing man he's ever met? No, really, that's likely.
He's swept away by the tidal wave that is his lover. He goes willingly.