Bruce’s day started badly.
He woke in his bed in the Tower; his head ached and his mouth tasted like something had crawled inside and died, so he was recovering from a Hulkout. That explained why he didn’t remember going to bed last night, and why the covers were pulled up to his waist; when he bothered to sleep in an actual bed, Bruce tended to lie on the sheets, rather than beneath them. He ran a little hotter than normal, and the Tower was temperature-controlled anyway, so covers just made him uncomfortable. Of course, he was usually wearing clothes.
Bruce rolled over and slung his legs over the side of the bed, sheets pooling in his lap and providing a trace of modesty, not that there was anybody else present to care. He rubbed at his eyes, then pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers, hoping to relieve a little of the headache.
“JARVIS, what time is it?” he croaked, pulling a face as the words brought the taste of his mouth back to his attention. What had the Other Guy been eating? If he’d gone on another squirrel binge, Bruce was going to have words with Tony. The inventor had promised he wouldn’t let ‘Big Green’ eat any more wildlife.
“Eight thirty am, Dr Banner,” JARVIS replied, voice softer than normal in reverence to Bruce’s pounding head. Even after living in the Tower for almost three months, he was still constantly amazed by what Tony’s AI was capable of. “Sir is in his workshop fashioning a new polymer for the Hulk-Proof fabric, and has expressed a desire for you to join him when you are ready. He even instructed me to lower the music as you entered.”
That wrung a small smile from Bruce. Tony didn’t turn down his music for anybody else; when Steve or Natasha tried to gain access to the workshop, he actually turned it up, which drove everybody from the floors adjacent, let alone the shop itself. He supposed he should feel honoured.
“Tell him I’ll be right there,” Bruce agreed, standing and walking nude to the bathroom in his suite. “I just need to shower and remove the dead mammal from my teeth first.”
“I’ll start the tea brewing,” JARVIS confirmed. Bruce smiled. Tony had gone out of his way to make sure Bruce felt at home in the Tower; he claimed it was because he’d only just found his ‘Science Bro’ and wasn’t about to let him go before they’d blown up at least three labs, but Bruce wasn’t an idiot. He’d broken his cover – and rather spectacularly at that – during the Chitauri invasion, and had been seen in Tony’s presence several times since; Ross had to know where he was. But the army he’d anticipated showing up on the doorstep had never arrived.
Bruce had been running from them, from himself, and from the consequences of all their actions, for years. Even when he’d lost Ross, he hadn’t stopped moving, staying in out-of-the-way towns and places with little to no technology, helping where possible and keeping as low a profile as a giant green rage monster could. Then SHIELD had shown up and proven to him that he wasn’t as good at hiding as he thought. They’d been the ones keeping Ross off his back, feeding the army false information and generally being very unhelpful. But there was no way that whoever was liaising with Ross was managing to keep this from him. Just yesterday, Tony had dragged Bruce across town to some tiny Italian restaurant that he claimed his Science Bro just had to try, because they had the best homemade pizza outside of Italy and he was missing out. The press had snapped a few pictures, because that’s what one did when Tony Start strutted around town. Then someone had taken a more literal shot. They missed; a window shattered and Tony threw himself to the ground with the practice of somebody who had dodged too many bullets, and Bruce didn’t remember anything after that.
Yeah, Ross knew where he was. But he hadn’t come calling.
Now, Bruce could have SHIELD to thank for that, but he doubted it. They leaned far more towards misdirection and outright lying than threatening army Generals, which was what it would have taken to get Ross to back off. Tony, however? Tony was good with the threats. Mostly he blustered, but Bruce had seen footage from Board meetings and meetings with Senators and other people who thought they could bully the playboy CEO into co-operating with them. They were all very wrong; Tony on a mission was terrifying. And he seemed to be on a mission to keep Bruce.
Bruce finished showering, brushed his teeth until he felt less like he’d swallowed a large rodent or twelve, then rummaged around the closet in his room for clothes. None of them were the ones he’d come to New York with; since moving into the Tower and becoming a full-time Avenger, his shirt collection had taken rather a beating. Tony had just bought him a pile of new ones, all his size and in styles the inventor had seen him wearing, along with the odd t-shirt thrown in here and there. All the t-shirts he’d seen so far had been various Avengers merchandise; a Hulk one, a Black Widow one that had made Natasha smile at him for the first time since the Other Guy had almost squished her in the Helicarrier, and of course an Iron Man one that he had worn around the labs with Tony and which had prompted the delivery of a new pile of t-shirts. Bruce had snorted and shoved them into the closet without looking at them; they were probably more Iron Man shirts, along with a few Hulk ones, because Tony never tired of pointing out that the Other Guy was not as bad as people seemed to think.
Hulk actually listened to Tony, which perplexed pretty much everyone. He’d take ‘smash’ orders from Steve in battle, but outside of that he was notorious for doing what he wanted. Unless, apparently, Tony asked him not to. Then he followed Iron Man back to the Tower like a gosling after its mother. To say it was bizarre was an understatement. When Bruce asked how Tony did it, the other man had smiled, shrugged, and said ‘the Other Guy likes me. No accounting for taste, right?’, then promptly changed the subject. Bruce took the hint and backed off, but he no longer worried so much about releasing the Hulk in the middle of the city.
Bruce pulled on a pair of jeans that looked to be Tony’s, actually, from the grease-stains, and how had those gotten in there? Deciding not to pursue that avenue of thought, he grabbed the top shirt from the new pile – an Iron Man shirt would show Tony his appreciation for his actions the previous day – and pulled it over his head before leaving the room and heading for the workshop. Sure enough, JARVIS lowered the music as he entered, and Tony turned around with a frown.
“J, what are you playing at… Bruce! Right! Hey, come over here, I need you to try to rip this.”
He lifted a sheet of white-grey material that looked to be cotton, but when Bruce touched it felt more like silk. He shot Tony a look.
“This is not going to hold up against the Other Guy.”
Tony scowled at him.
“It’s stronger than it looks, genius, like you. Kevlar has nothing on that stuff. Just try, will you?”
Bruce sighed but acquiesced. Then he frowned when he couldn’t even get the stuff to stretch, let alone tear. He looked up at Tony, who had that manically amused glint in his eye, and found himself being poked in the ribs with a pen. He sighed and draped the material over the inventor’s head.
“So, I can’t rip it. The Other Guy is a lot bigger.”
Tony pulled the cloth back so he could see. He looked like he was wearing a wimple.
“Brucey, why so negative? This lack of trust hurts, really.”
Bruce snorted and took the material back. The nun look really didn’t suit Tony.
“Fine. How far do you want me to go with this?”
“I’m guessing from the wincing that you still ache, so no actual Hulking Out, but otherwise go nuts. If you can rip it, I’ve done something wrong.”
Bruce nodded and walked across the room to a stainless steel table that held a number of tools. He picked up one with a sharp blade. Tony chuckled.
“After that, try burning it; there’s a soldering iron on there somewhere.”
Bruce looked at him, then spread the cloth out over a table and sliced at it. Nothing happened. He tried a few other ways to cut it, none showing any effects, then gave up and put the tool back. Tony was at his side with the soldering iron when he turned back.
Fifteen minutes later, after multiple attempts to destroy the cloth, both geniuses were a little exhausted while the material, while a little greyer perhaps, was untouched. Bruce sighed.
“Well, it stands up well.”
“Yup. I guess there’s only one thing left then.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow. Tony grabbed the material and strode over to a machine standing in the corner. Bruce didn’t remember seeing it before, so Tony had probably just built it, solely for this purpose. He did stuff like that.
“”What does that do?” Bruce asked, following and watching as Tony strapped the sides of the cloth into the machine, pulling it taut. He flicked a button at the side, and the contraption whirred and started to stretch the material. While Bruce himself had been unable to do so, the machine managed just fine. Once the cloth was about half its own size again, Tony shut it off and released one side; the material didn’t immediately spring back to its former size, but it did shrink a little. Tony frowned.
“Hmm, so not completely right, but we’re getting there. What do you think?”
He turned to Bruce, looking expectant, and Bruce smiled at him.
“I think it’s amazing.”
“And the material?”
Bruce cuffed him gently about the head. Tony laughed.
“Alright, alright. So, we’re most of the way there. Ideally, we’d want it to shrink back around you when you change back, but it’ll do for a prototype I suppose. Do you want a shirt as well as pants, or not? I know the Big Guy doesn’t really care, I asked him yesterday and he scoffed, so he’ll put up with whatever…”
Bruce shook his head with a fond smile. Of course Tony had asked the Other Guy for his input. He would be the one wearing it, after all.
“Just pants are fine, thanks. I don’t think my being shirtless will offend too many people.”
Tony eyed his torso with a smirk.
“Nope, me either. Though I gotta say, I like the one you’re wearing now.”
Bruce hadn’t actually looked when he’d pulled the shirt on; it was the same red colour as the last Iron Man one, so he’d simply assumed that was what it was, but he supposed he should know better of Tony by now. He looked down and sighed. On it in was written;
People like you are
the reason people like
me need medication
He gave Tony a dry look. Tony laughed at him.
Returning to his suite an hour later, Bruce poked through the rest of the shirts in the new pile, shaking his head at them. Three of them were Iron Man ones, as he’d suspected, three were Hulk ones in varying shades of green, one bearing just the Other Guy’s face, the others with the word ‘SMASH’ written in block capitals. Two were Hawkeye shirts, which Bruce raised an eyebrow at but kind of made sense, because Tony and Clint were actually pretty close. The others all bore strange and amusing phrases. He sorted those from the others, laying them in their own pile in the closet, and smirked.
The next day, Bruce sauntered into the communal kitchen and sat at the table with a mug of tea, making certain to sit in such a way that his shirt would be easily visible from the doorway. Clint was already in there, perched on the island and eating a bowl of cereal; the archer raised an eyebrow at Bruce’s posture, then read the shirt and shook his head.
“Scientists are weird,” he said. Bruce chuckled and sipped at his tea, taking his eyes off the door for a moment to study the Agent. Clint hadn’t moved into the Tower immediately after the Chitauri attack, as Bruce had. Instead, Tony and Bruce had encountered him in the range at SHIELD’s New York base, firing arrow after arrow into Loki-shaped cut-outs three weeks after Thor had taken him back to Asgard.
“Hey, Katniss, nice shooting,” Tony had called, readying his own firearm. They were there for some kind of assessment; Fury wanted to make sure the scientists were up to par when it came to shooting apparently. Bruce had declined, and Tony had shot him a sideways look that told him the other man still hadn’t forgotten his little admission on the Helicarrier regards his suicide attempt months earlier. Thankfully, he hadn’t said anything, instead making a huge fuss about how ridiculous this was; he’d spent over a decade designing weapons for a living and he had a metal suit that fired lasers, did Fury really think he couldn’t aim? Fury had told him to put his money where his mouth was, and Tony had sniped that he would and stomped off to the firing range, claiming Bruce needed to go too as a ‘witness to the awesomeness that was about to happen’. Bruce hadn’t had to so much as touch a gun; he’d smiled and made a mental note to cook that Thai curry Tony liked so much when they got back to the Tower.
Then they’d run into Clint, whose fingers were beginning to get bloody. How long had the archer been down here? He’d looked up at Tony’s call, his eyes bloodshot, and that was it. Tony had adopted him on the spot. Not that he’d made it that simple, of course; he’d challenged Clint to a shoot-off. Whoever could hit the most bulls-eyes in a minute won. Clint had raised an eyebrow, but not bothered to ask ‘won what’ before he fired off several arrows, all effortlessly hitting the dead centre of the targets that popped up. Tony followed suit with his handgun, and he hadn’t been lying, his aim was good, but nothing compared to Clint’s. The archer had smirked, folded his bow and asked what he won. Tony told him to come by the Tower and pick out a car he liked; the archer’s eyes had almost popped out of his head. He’d gone back to the Tower with them, and just never left.
Natasha joined them a few days later, without notice or, that Bruce could tell, invite, but she was there one morning as the two scientists walked in from a sleepless night in the lab, sitting at the table with Clint and drinking coffee like she owned the place. Tony had started briefly, eyed her like she might stab him, then shrugged and asked if she liked her suite. She nodded once, and that was it. They had a new housemate.
Steve had joined them almost a month after that. He’d gone off travelling, supposedly to see how America had changed in the last seventy years, but SHIELD had called him back when some self-proclaimed ‘super-villain’ named Dr Doom had released a swarm of robots into New York City. The Avengers had been summoned, including Clint, who had been off active duty since Loki had brainwashed him, and they’d spent several hours chasing down and destroying the ‘Doombots’. Tony had spent most of the time swearing and proclaiming loudly that the robots were not worthy of the name, their AI was rubbish and what the hell was with the weaponry? Steve had arrived and told him to shut up, and surprisingly he did, thought he still grumbled to Bruce later when he was taking the things apart in the workshop.
Steve, recalled from his trip, had apparently decided not to head back out, and was en route to SHIELD when Tony yelled at him, asking where the hell he thought he was going, didn’t he know the team were all at his place? Steve had scowled, and Tony had scowled right back, but the offer had been genuine and, with a little prodding from Natasha, he had moved in. He and Tony still clashed, a lot, but things were better now than they had been.
Bruce finished his tea and set the mug on the table just as Steve walked into the room, hair still wet from a shower. He blinked as he took in Bruce’s shirt then apparently decided not to comment, instead heading for the stove to make breakfast. The smell of cooking bacon lured a half-asleep Tony into the room, clutching a coffee mug like a lifeline. It was empty, if the zombie-shuffle to the coffeemaker was any indication. Bruce let him caffeinate before drawing his attention. Tony looked up from the mug and eyed the shirt.
I’d be unstoppable
if not for
Tony laughed, snorting coffee through his nose. He coughed, and took the cloth Steve offered him with a nod to clean the coffee off himself, but he was grinning when he met Bruce’s eyes.
“You’re dangerous,” he said, voice low with laughter still, and Bruce smiled at him.
“You bought them for me.”
“You’re the one wearing it at breakfast.”
Natasha walked in at that point, pausing to take in the amused looks the scientists shared and the confused expressions on Clint and Steve’s faces, before sitting at the table and helping herself to bacon. Clint coughed and hopped down from his perch to join her, laying the empty bowl in front of him.
“You bought Bruce shirts and not me?” he asked, pouting. Tony snorted again, this time sans coffee, and shook his head.
“I gave you a car, Legolas.”
“Oh, yeah. She’s awesome.”
“I know,” Tony agreed, then refilled his coffee mug and waved to the others as he left for his workshop, already talking to JARVIS. Steve sat down beside Bruce.
“So, what just happened?”
The next shirt on the pile, Bruce wore when the Avengers were scheduled to appear on one of those late-night chat shows. He put it on beneath a button-down, making sure it wouldn’t be visible on the show, then grabbed another off a pile that he had bought himself and carried it with him to the TV room, where the Avengers were all meeting up. Tony was, surprisingly, already there, slouched on one of the sofas with a glass of scotch. Bruce frowned. That was never a good sign.
“Hey, Tony. Everything alright?”
Tony looked up and smiled.
Bruce looked pointedly at the glass in his hand. He sighed and put it down on the floor.
“I don’t like talk shows.”
Bruce thought about this for a moment, then nodded slowly. Tony didn’t have a great history with the media, and the blinding smile he always wore before them was empty and shallow. They wanted Anthony Stark, billionaire playboy genius, not Tony, the workaholic who spent money like water if he thought it could make other people happy. They wanted a show, which Tony was very good at giving but, Bruce was beginning to learn, hated doing. Which was why he skipped so many of the functions he was supposed to attend. He’d rather be in the shop with his bots, talking to JARVIS and making a new and improved Widows Sting for Natasha.
Bruce sat beside him and placed the shirt he’d bought on his knees. Tony eyed him for a moment, then unfolded it.
by shiny objects.
He snorted and a genuine smile flicked across his face.
“True,” he acknowledged, weaving his fingers into the material. “Thanks, Bruce.”
Bruce undid the top three buttons of his shirt and leaned forward so Tony could see the one he was wearing.
which level of
hell is this?
Tony burst out laughing. Bruce smiled and re-buttoned his shirt. That was better.
Bruce started leaving the shirts in various places, in the lab, on Tony’s bed, and one he gave to Dummy with instructions to give it to Tony later that day. Tony put in an appearance at dinner that night, for the first time in three days, wearing the shirt and a huge grin. Bruce smirked at him.
“You like it then?”
Clint looked up from his food, and promptly choked on a bite of chicken. Natasha thumped him on the back. Tony took a seat and helped himself to a plate while the archer got his breath back.
“You know me too well, Brucey,” Tony said, smirking widely, and smoothing a hand over the text on his chest.
I can talk and piss you
off at the same time
Clint recovered and pointed his fork at the scientists.
“That’s it. I want a shirt.”
Bruce met Tony’s gaze, and they smirked. Steve sighed, Natasha rolled her eyes, and Clint grinned.
“I know I’m going to regret saying that, but I don’t care.”
“I do,” Steve said, spearing a carrot with his fork. Tony cooed at him.
“Don’t worry, Capsicle, we’ll get you one too.”
Steve sighed again.
Tony followed through on his promise/threat to get them all shirts. He handed them out the following week over dinner, with mixed reactions. Steve took his like he was being handed a live grenade, Natasha simply raised her eyebrow and left Tony to put it on the table in front of her, and Clint grabbed his gleefully. The archer opened it up and grinned, turning it around so the others could see what it said.
It wasn’t me
Steve shook his head, Natasha’s lips twitched and Tony beamed.
“It’s better than I was expecting,” Natasha said finally. Tony turned on her.
“Look at yours. You too, Cap.”
Bruce leaned back in his seat and waited to see what Tony had got for them. They unfolded the shirts at the same time; Steve shook his head in silence while Natasha’s lips twitched again in a way that meant she was amused. She turned the shirt around, and Clint giggled. Bruce huffed a laugh too.
I’m a ninja
(you can’t see me)
“It’s funny because it’s true,” Tony said, taking a seat between Bruce and Clint and looking expectantly at Steve. Steve turned the shirt slowly.
Don’t act like
Clint grinned, and Bruce shook his head.
“True, you are very impressive,” Clint agreed, and high-fived Tony. Tony leaned back in his chair with a smirk.
“You are all welcome.”
This apparently signalled the beginning of a shirt-war between Clint and Tony. They would buy the other a shirt, and dare them to wear it. Both of them were stubborn enough to do so. Bruce added to the confusion by buying them all shirts too, but Clint didn’t include him in the game because, as the archer moaned one night, Tony had already bought him all the good ones. He smiled and threw them each a shirt anyway, grinning as Clint and Tony both immediately pulled them on, while Steve shook his head and mumbled something that sounded like ‘you are all insane’. He and Natasha did show the others what they’d received though, probably so the two who had managed to turn it into a competition would stop pestering them. Steve’s read;
which made Tony pull a face, but thankfully he didn’t comment. Natasha’s got a better reaction.
I think I’ll kill you last
Clint asked her who it applied to, and she cast a glance over all of them before declaring that they would probably find out someday. Tony shuddered exaggeratedly.
Tony’s and Clint’s shirts were interchangeable. Clint’s read;
Ask me about my ability
to annoy complete strangers
which made both men smirk, and Tony’s said;
as an adult
Bruce shrugged and sat on the sofa beside Natasha.
“I couldn’t decide which one to give to whom, so feel free to swap if you like.”
Even Steve smiled a little at that.
The shirt war didn’t really had a winner, but then again, that was never the point.