Super-secret Superhero Science Clubhouse, or, the Tony Force

Category: Avengers, MCU, Fantastic Four, Amazing Spiderman, X-Men, Doctor Strange


Bruce follows Tony into his car. He isn’t sure why.

He’s not sure how he got here, or even whose clothes he’s wearing, though he suspects Tony’s, in context.

Everything since he woke up and they told him he missed an alien invasion and by the way thanks for smashing the shit out of their leader, don’t worry Thor isn’t holding a grudge now that his baby brother’s ribs have grown back, is kind of a blur.

Mostly, he suspects, he’s following Tony because of some hitherto undiscovered force. Objects in the vicinity of Tony Stark stay there, unless acted upon by an outside Pepper.

It’s a working theory.

Tony drags him up to the remains of his penthouse. Apparently the alien interdimensional portal opened on the roof, so it’s not in the best shape. There’s also a crater in the floor.

“This is where Green You smashed Crazy Cats,” Tony says gleefully. “I’m going to keep it. Do you think you could make it a little bigger so I can use it as a water feature?”

“No.”

“Maybe a small water feature,” Tony decides.

“Why am I here?” Bruce asks. “I should be fleeing the country.”

“Bru-u-uce,” Tony whines. “Candyland! Science!”

“Rage monster. Wanted by the government.”

“Oh, please. Do I need to show you the footage of you snatching me out of the air like a damsel in distress again?”

“No.” Bruce’s heart can’t take another round of that.

“Good, because it isn’t good for my ego.”

That’s a lie if Bruce has ever heard one. He suspects that Tony isn’t as blasé about his near-death experience as he’s pretending. He also suspects that he’ll never admit it.

“While I did save Manhattan from both an alien army and the shitheads on the World Security Council, you did your part, too. It was very impressive how you punched that giant space whale in the face. Not as impressive as when I blew one up from the inside, but perhaps not as messy.”

Bruce shrugs. That isn’t him, not really. It’s hard to argue that the Hulk didn’t help in the Battle of Manhattan, at least incidentally, but that doesn’t make Bruce Banner a hero.

Tony is frowning thoughtfully at him.

Bruce thinks this might actually be more worrying than the babble.

~*~

He stays the night, because the streets are crawling with panicked civilians, the entire police force of New York State, and whatever army and National Guard personnel that could get here in time.

He stays the week because there is no functioning transportation in this part of the city.

But after that he’s out of justifications, and he’s just getting ready to try and sneak out when Tony reappears from wherever he’s been for the past week and grabs his arm.

Bruce succumbs to the Tony Force.

The repair crews have obviously been busy at Stark Tower, because outside of the penthouse, which is still mostly a wreck, there’s hardly any damage at all.

“Good foundation,” Tony says, giving one of the walls a proprietary pat.

They take Tony’s private elevator to a floor whose number has been replaced with a post-it note saying ‘Candyland’.

“Tony…” Bruce says.

“Nope. You have to see. Just look.”

There’s only one door, and it has a hand-lettered sign attached to it.

Bruce frowns and scrapes at some unidentified substance oozing out from under the sign. “What’s this?”

“Something adhesive, I don’t know, I just invented it, I couldn’t find any tape, I’m lucky I found the paper, really, in this day and age, and Pepper wouldn’t answer when I yelled.”

Bruce blinks.

“But the sign!” Tony presses.

Bruce obediently reads it. It says ‘Super-Secret Superhero Science Clubhouse’.

“Really, Tony?”

“Didn’t you want to have a clubhouse as a kid? I thought everyone wanted that. Well now we have one.” He opens the door and gives Bruce a little push through.

It is, indeed, Candyland. Bruce can’t move. He thinks he might be drooling a little.

Tony looks so smug it should be illegal. “I knew you’d love it. I’m always right. If I ever doubted myself, I would wonder why I ever doubted myself.”

“You are insufferable,” Bruce says, but he doesn’t look away from all the shiny lab equipment.

“This is just for us,” Tony says. “Well, and if decide to invite anyone else to our clubhouse. But they have to be a genius scientist. And a superhero.”

“I don’t know if I—“

“You do,” Tony interrupts. “You qualify, you want this, you belong here. Did I cover all of your objections?”

“But—”

“I’ve thought of a secret password. Sort of a play on the acronym.” He hisses.

Bruce loses his train of thought. “What?”

Tony cackles like a hyena and hisses again. “You know the secret password, it can’t be unheard. Have to stay. For your own protection.”

Bruce succumbs to the lure of Science! and the inevitability of the Tony Force.

~*~

Pepper eventually ventures down (up?) to the sanctum, with several people in tow.

Tony doesn’t look up from whatever he’s soldering. “Go away, important science being done here.”

“Oh my god you’re Doctor Jane Foster,” Bruce says.

That does earn a look. At Bruce. “Do you need to be alone with your nerdgasm?”

Bruce blushes bright red but he holds his ground, because Doctor Jane Foster.

Tony rolls his eyes and huffs. “Fine. Pepper, why are Doctor Jane Foster and entourage in our super-secret clubhouse?”

“I think that’s Erik Selvig,” Bruce says helpfully, once he can notice anything besides Doctor Jane Foster, standing in the same room as him. “Also a doctor.”

“I didn’t think you’d remember me,” Selvig says.

“So many department meetings,” Bruce says. “Sorry I, er, destroyed the lab. And the quad. And that walkway.”

“No hard feelings,” Selvig says, stepping forward to give him a firm handshake. “I left Culver a long time ago. Difference of opinion. Thought I was crazy, did they? Thought believing in aliens was just another one of old Selvig’s funny ideas, eh? Well who’s crazy now?”

“Er,” Bruce says.

“Right, yes,” Tony says impatiently. “Doctor Banner, meet Doctor Foster, meet Doctor Selvig, meet Doctor Stark, Doctor Doctor Doctor Stark, if anyone’s counting…”

“Now don’t start that,” Pepper says.

Tony whirls on Bruce. “How many doctorates do you have? Jarvis, look it up. We should show each other the proper respect.”

“Tony, no,” Pepper says.

“And you, girl, what’s your name, how many doctorates do you have?”

The ‘girl’ rolls her eyes. “I’m Darcy Lewis, undergrad student. I’m working on a political science degree.”

Tony hisses and makes little x’s with his fingers in her direction, then crosses himself for good measure.

Pepper sighs.

“Like I want to spend my time surrounded by this much science when I could be ordering real sushi and imported coffee on Tony Stark’s dime and call it working,” Darcy says.

Bruce is kind of impressed by how utterly unimpressed she is.

“I’m just here to drop off Jane,” Darcy says. “Here’s her lunch, and I’ll be back to pick her up at six.”

“Darcy…” Jane groans.

“Play nicely with the other scientists,” Darcy admonishes.

“Ooh, Dunkaroos,” Tony says, digging through Jane’s lunch.

“I’m sorry,” Pepper says. “If he destroys it, or eats it, I’ll send something up.”

Darcy shrugs. “It’s just snacks and a sandwich. I wait until dinner before I get really ambitious and try and introduce vegetables.”

“You want to join our super-secret club?” Tony asks Jane. “I’m guessing from Bruce’s fangirling over there that you are also a genius scientist, but this club is only for geniuses who are also superheroes.”

Bruce opens his mouth.

“Zip it,” Tony says, not even turning to look.

“She hit Thor with a van,” Darcy says. “Twice. But I tased him.”

Tony gives this due consideration. “Okay. That counts. Welcome to the club. Bruce, get her a membership card.”

“Uh…” Bruce says, and hands her a Bunsen burner, the good one that doesn’t make that weird clicking noise.

She accepts this with due solemnity.

“You aren’t invited,” Tony says to Darcy. He starts to make that warding off gesture again and Pepper smacks his hand.

“Whatever,” Darcy says.

“I think I’m just going to stay with SHIELD,” Selvig says.

“That’s probably wise,” Pepper says.

~*~

The next time they see Pepper in the lab, she brings two complete strangers.

“No,” Tony says, trying to bar the door with the wrench he’s carrying.

Well, strangers to Bruce, anyway.

“You want people for your little club, I find people for your little club,” she says, and glides serenely away.

“My building has a hole in it,” the man says. “And by that I mean half of it’s been completely destroyed. What did I miss?”

“Everything. Aliens. Superhero mashups. Nukes in New York. That sounds like a boyband name. Too soon?”

Jane doesn’t even look up from her research.

Bruce sighs, and cleans his glasses. “Hello, welcome to Tony’s laboratory. Please feel free to ignore anything and everything he says.”

“Bru-u-uce. It’s a super-secret clubhouse!”

Bruce takes his own advice and ignores him. “I’m Doctor Bruce Banner,” he says. “I won’t be offended if you’d rather not be in the same room as me.”

To his surprise, the man laughs. “Don’t worry, I always bounce back,” he says, and grins the grin of the awkward nerd who is internally laughing at his own jokes.

The woman elbows him sharply. “Still not funny, Reed,” she says. “That’s Reed Richards. I’m Susan Storm.”

“Uh… hi?” Bruce says.

Tony stops complaining to Dummy about the injustices of the world. “Wait, you don’t know who they are? You don’t know who they are!” He does a strange little dance, and does not explain himself.

Bruce starts cleaning his glasses again. “Sorry. I’ve been… off the grid, for a while. Not a lot of running water where I’ve been staying, let alone reliable American news outlets.”

“Fair enough,” Richards says, clapping him on the shoulder. “We’re a superhero team, the Fantastic Four—“

“Not my idea,” Storm says darkly.

“—I’m Mr. Fantastic and she’s the Invisible Girl—”

“Also not my idea.”

“—and we’ve got two others, obviously, the Fantastic Four, but they’re not much into science. So. About my building.”

Bruce blinks. “You… didn’t know? Aliens in New York?”

“Tony was serious about that?” Richards asks.

“We were off-planet,” Storm says, which, what?

“There was this whole big thing,” Jane says, jumping into the conversation. “Norse gods come to life, alien invasion, almost the end of life as we know it. SHIELD put together a superhero team—”

“Excuse me?” Tony squeaks. “SHIELD had nothing to do with it. Almost nothing. Like they weren’t even there.”

“—and they stopped it and saved the city. Most of it. Sorry about your building,” Jane finishes.

“Well, it was old,” Richards says. “And we can cover the broken parts with glass, make an observatory.”

“No,” Storm says.

“But—”

“No.”

“And you all were part of it?” Richards asks, deciding to drop the topic of the observatory for now.

“I wasn’t,” Jane says. “I was in Norway. I’m kind of dating Thor. But we’re taking the long distance thing to a whole new level, so I’m not sure it’s going to work out.”

“I was!” Tony shouts. “I flew a nuclear bomb into space and blew up a space whale!”

Bruce shrugs. “I guess I was there, too.”

“You guess?”

They don’t get any more science done that day, because Tony insists on showing the other two all the footage from the Battle of Manhattan.

He even makes popcorn.

At least Richards and Storm don’t seem too weirded out by the whole Hulk thing. Though he’s quietly pleased that they’re so cool about it, he does wish Storm wouldn’t steal his popcorn.

“Kind of puts that whole Doctor-Doom-destroys-a-fire-hydrant thing in perspective,” Tony says.

“For the last time, that is not what happened,” Richards says.

“We destroyed the fire hydrant,” Storm says. “It was an emergency. Victor was going crazy. He fired a missile at the Baxter Building.”

“So last year,” Tony says. “Did I tell you about the nuke?”

Bruce sighs. He’s going to have to look this up on Wikipedia later, because he has no idea what they’re talking about. He does hope this Doctor Doom and Victor are two different people, because he thought ‘the Hulk’ was a silly name.

It’s worse, Jarvis tells him later.

He’s actually called Doctor Victor Von Doom.

No wonder he became a supervillain.

~*~

“I have a theory,” Tony says.

Jane, who has commendable focus, doesn’t so much as twitch.

Bruce sighs. “What’s your theory?”

“I think there’s a correlation between being CEO of a major corporation and superheroing.”

Definitely time to start cleaning his glasses. “Name one. Who isn’t you.”

“I think you might be losing your memory, buddy, because we have Exhibit A, the people who were here just yesterday.”

“If you’re talking about Reed Richards and Susan Storm, that was two weeks ago,” Bruce says.

“Really?”

“Yes. You offered to pay to renovate their building so you didn’t have to, what was it, ‘keep looking at Reed’s stupid face.’”

Jane giggles.

“Oh, right,” Tony says. “Was that before or after I convinced him to make you some stretchy pants?”

“After.”

“Well, that’s alright, then. He’s annoying.”

Bruce sighs.

“Don’t think I can’t hear you sighing over there. Personally I think you’re much less of a giant rage monster and more of a small, glasses-cleaning, heavy-sighing, fun-ruining science monster.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Bruce says, deadpan.

“You just don’t want to admit I’m right.”

“You’re not. Richards isn’t CEO of anything, and Storm used to be engaged to a CEO, but she wasn’t a CEO herself, and anyway he isn’t even a CEO anymore either.”

“You mean von Doom? You’re talking about von Doom, right? Well that was my example. CEO of Von Doom Industries, temporarily a statue in Latveria.”

Bruce catches himself before he starts cleaning his glasses again. “Well, Tony, he was fired and turned evil and now he’s a statue, so he’s not a CEO, either.”

“But—”

And he is indisputably a supervillain, not a superhero. Unless trying to blow up the Baxter Building is some billionaires-only demonstration of civic service.”

“It might be,” Tony mutters. Then, louder, “Okay, but at the time he gained superpowers, he was CEO of Von Doom Industries, so really, my point still stands.”

“Don’t you think there’s a point where a point becomes too problematic to be useful?” Bruce asks.

“So what you’re saying is, we need to gather more data points.”

“No, that is not what I’m saying.”

“I haven’t been out schmoozing since the Battle. I’ll have Pepper order you a tuxedo.”

“What?” Bruce squawks, to the empty air where Tony used to be.

Jane gives him a vaguely sympathetic look and goes back to her calculations.

~*~

“This is perfect,” Tony says. “Oscorp Industries has just had a successful test of some new miracle medical drug. There’s an industry-only benefit dinner thing.”

“I don’t want to go,” Bruce says, not for the first time.

Also not for the first time, he is ignored. “Don’t worry, Oscorp stopped looking into the supersoldier serum ages ago, no one will care if you’re there.”

Bruce freezes. “What.”

Tony waves a hand. “Old news. Norman Osborn won’t even be there. He doesn’t get out of bed much these days. Coincidentally, about the same number of days his company has stopped trying to build soldiers for the army and started churning out medical innovations. Funny, that. That’s what we call a ‘coincidence’ in the industry.”

“Well now I really don’t want to go.”

Tony looks at him.

Bruce looks at the ceiling.

Tony looks at him.

Bruce puts on the tux.

~*~

“This is one hundred percent your fault,” Bruce says, running from a giant man-lizard thing.

How is this his life?

“More like twelve percent,” Tony says, which doesn’t even make sense.

Bruce doesn’t really have the breath to snark back. He used to be so good at this, running from the military in various cities all around the world. He’s getting out of shape.

Though probably he should be more concerned about the man who is missing most of his sternum.

“You should sit down,” he tells Tony, who is starting to look a little blue around the mouth.

Tony wheezes and waves his arms in a way that, in context, is probably meant to indicate a giant man-lizard thing.

“Well I’m here,” Bruce says, “so really, what’s it going to do?”

Tony’s eyes go wide and he wheezes some more.

Bruce more or less carries him into an empty lab, giving him a chance to catch his breath.

“One day…” Tony gasps “I’m going to find a way to have the suit come to me.”

“That’s nice,” Bruce says, peering out the window. “I think the giant man-lizard thing got in a cab.”

“Wow. That’s New York for you.”

“So should we try and go back to the party, or what?”

Tony glares at him. “Giant man-lizard thing, running amok in the city.”

Bruce glares back. “Breaking and entering. Clearly in a place we are not supposed to be. Maybe Oscorp meant to create a giant man-lizard thing.”

Okay, that last one might be stretching it a bit.

“Well, it is Oscorp,” Tony says thoughtfully, because of course he does.

“So we’ll put in an appearance at the party, then duck out early to investigate the giant man-lizard thing?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Tony says. “If anyone asks, we were hooking up in the coat closet. Much cozier than the bathroom, trust me on this.”

Bruce sighs, and cleans his glasses.

~*~

A new superhero confronts the new supervillain, dubbed ‘The Lizard’ by the media.

Lame.

But more concise than ‘giant man-lizard thing’.

“The bigger question is, who’s the kid?” Tony says, illegally downloading footage from every CCTV camera near the bridge. “Look at the suit. I think that web thingy is some kind of tech. I have to meet this guy. Girl. What do you think?”

Bruce is not letting Tony talk him into anymore of his nonsense.

“Boy,” Jane says, obligingly checking out the obviously-homemade uniform.

The media still hasn’t made up their mind about the young superhero, but he has tentatively been named ‘Spiderman’ after the web stuff and the prominent spider on the back of his uniform.

That’s self-marketing for you.

“I’ll find him,” Tony says. “Jarvis, let’s get to work.”

“I don’t want to know anything that you’re doing,” Bruce says, and covers his ears.

~*~

“Ha!” Tony shouts, thrusting an actual, paper newspaper under Bruce’s nose.

“I didn’t know you knew what those were,” Bruce says, leaning back and taking his glasses out of the danger zone. “Congratulations.”

“Ha!” Tony says again, shaking the paper.

Bruce sighs. “What is it?”

“I found him!”

Bruce leans back a little more, and the paper comes into focus. It’s the Daily Bugle. “Tony, this is a rag. You’d be lucky if they accidentally tripped over a legitimate news story.”

“Yes, yes, but look at the picture!”

It is, admittedly, a good picture of Spiderman. The best Bruce has seen so far, but then, the kid is still pretty new to superheroing. And it’s not like there are any great pictures of the Hulk.

Tony, of course, poses for them.

Tony shakes the newspaper again.

“Okay, yes, it’s a good picture, what do you want from me?”

Too good. Suspiciously good.”

“Really, Tony, you’re being ridiculous. Spiderman wouldn’t take pictures of himself and then turn around and sell them out of costume. No one is that dumb.”

“According to the editor,” Tony says, “the photographer is a freelancer. Brand new. He only has pictures of Spiderman, nothing else. And he goes to Midtown High.”

Bruce must look confused.

“It’s a special school for math and science nerds,” Tony says. “Not a prep school on the level, say, I went to, but more upscale than you usually get in the city.”

That’s… a pretty thin argument.

“Bruce,” Tony says, semi-patiently. “Try to think. If you were a teenaged nerd and suddenly discovered you had awesome superpowers, what is the first thing you do?”

Bruce prefers not to remember being a teenager, but he can imagine what Tony would do. “Take pictures of myself?” he guesses. “Post them all over the place so everyone could see how awesome I am?”

“Precisely, my big green friend. Precisely. Now let’s go find this Peter Parker fellow.”

Bruce hopes they’re not about to go creep around some high school like giant, well, creepers.

~*~

When Tony creeps, he creeps with style. Bruce should have known.

He swaggers into the school—and Bruce has never seen someone actually swagger before, and could have lived without seeing it—introduces himself as Tony Stark, and the whole place goes nuts.

They’re all math and science geeks, and they all want to geek out over Tony Stark and the Iron Man armor and how awesome it is to be a superhero, and some of them are smart enough to also be angling for Stark Industries internships.

Bruce shuffles along in the wake of the impromptu assembly and hopes no one notices him.

“Oh my god are you Doctor Bruce Banner?”

He cringes over his whole body. “Um.”

“I read some of your articles!”

“What, really?”

“I’m a huge fan!” The boy looks like he really means it, too. If this were a cartoon, he’d have stars in his eyes.

Bruce has never had a fan before. “Er.”

The boy puts out his hand. “I’m Peter Parker.”

That’s about when a giant man-lizard thing—sorry, The Lizard—attacks the school.

“I brought the suit!” Tony hollers from somewhere in the mass of panicking students.

~*~

Iron Man and Spiderman saving the school is front-page news.

Bruce is just glad that he wasn’t on the front page, or any page. He pulled the fire alarm, and the students fell into the pavlovian response of all modern schoolchildren and hastily exited the gym and reassembled more or less in their assigned places, outside the building and away from the fire. Or in this case superhero-supervillain showdown. He was perfectly content to assure that this process was as smooth as possible.

“But you could have punched The Lizard,” Tony says. “It would have been like a real-life Godzilla versus King Kong.”

“Ooh,” Peter says.

Sometimes, Bruce strongly dislikes Tony. “You guys handled him just fine. I understand he’s shrunk back to a regular-sized person.”

“Yeah, and his arm disappeared. It was weird. Probably shouldn’t have tested that experimental serum on himself.”

“Yeah,” Bruce says, dry as the Sahara. “Probably.”

“Show me the web thing again,” Tony says, and he and Peter go back to flailing over Peter’s homemade suit.

This is much more Tony’s area than Bruce’s, so he goes to review his long-neglected work.

“Jane! Pepper!” Tony shouts, when the two women innocently walk into the lab. “Look!”

Pepper doesn’t even blink. “Tony, what have I told you about poaching the interns?”

“He’s my intern, I found him first, grabbed him right out of class.”

“Tony, please tell me you didn’t.”

“He’s also Spiderman!”

“Oh, hey, I saw you on the news,” Jane says. “Good job with that man-lizard thing.”

Giant man-lizard thing,” Tony says. “Though I hear he’s just going by The Lizard now.”

Jane ignores him. “I’m Doctor Jane Foster.”

“Really?” Peter says, and his voice cracks.

Tony elbows Bruce.

Bruce resolutely ignores him.

“We’re all doctors here, though not that kind of doctor, as some people are over-fond of reminding me,” Tony says. “And you aren’t a doctor yet, but I guess you can still join our super-secret club of people who are awesome science geniuses and also superheroes.”

Peter looks a little stunned.

“Only if you want to,” Pepper says. “And only after school is out.”

Peter thinks it over. “Can I bring my girlfriend?”

“Is she also a superhero?” Tony asks.

“Well, no. But she’s a genius. She’s an intern at Oscorp, for Doctor Connors. Well, was, I guess.”

“Was?” Pepper asks.

“Well, he’s The Lizard. I’m assuming he’s fired. Maybe he’s not. She hasn’t mentioned it.”

Tony laughs.

Bruce cleans his glasses.

“Of course you can bring your girlfriend,” Jane says. “What’s her field? How does she feel about astrophysics?”

~*~

“So obviously it was a good idea to look for superheroes in connection to major corporations,” Tony says.

“Obviously it wasn’t,” Bruce says. “We got attacked by a new supervillain and you almost had a heart attack on the stairwell.”

“But Peter,” Tony says. “What would you do without your number one fan?”

Tony generally likes to be the center of attention, even in his own lab, maybe especially in his own lab, and he’s dealt with not being Peter’s favorite by being as obnoxious about it as possible.

“So we should do it again,” Tony says. “Isn’t there a big project in the works at Pym Technologies? We should go check it out.”

“Make Jane go with you,” Bruce says.

~*~

Jane is way too smart for him, and of course it’s Bruce who is stuffed into a tux and forced to go to a dinner at Pym Technologies. The CEO, Darren Cross, is unveiling the plans for some exciting new tech and trying to court funding.

Tony Stark is in full Tony Stark mode, schmoozing and flirting and insulting people, sometimes all at once, right up until he realizes the thing being proposed is a suit.

“A suit!” he complains to Bruce, who is hiding by a potted plant.

“Mmhmm,” Bruce says.

“That’s my idea!”

“Were you even born when the original Ant-Man suit was built?” Bruce asks.

Tony sputters.

“It’s a totally different thing,” Bruce says.

“The Yellowjacket,” Tony mutters. “It’s a stupid name. And no one looks good in yellow.”

Bruce rolls his eyes.

Hank Pym, founder and CEO and creator of the original Ant-Man technology, which Bruce has only seen in very grainy footage of anti-Communist propaganda videos he saw in high school, does not look happy about this project. He famously retired the suit and failed to share his technology, and apparently he isn’t the impetus behind this new one.

On the other side of the room, and from the tension between them it might as well be the other side of the world, is his daughter, Hope van Dyne, who has some complicated title but is, according to Tony, basically the brains of the place.

Not Hank Pym, because he is apparently a dick. Tony has been extremely thorough in expounding on this point.

“Oh look, it’s you,” Tony says.

“Stark,” Hank Pym says stiffly. “Still wearing SHIELD’s leash, I see.”

Tony snarls at him.

Bruce is happy communing with his plant.

“I never thought I’d see you making weapons,” Tony says. “Not after our last conversation. What was it you called me again?”

“I’m sure I don’t recall,” Pym says, even more stiffly.

Tony, Bruce is certain, recalls exactly what was said, and he is equally certain that it was something very rude. “Maybe we should eat,” he blurts out. “There’s those little cheese things.”

Both Pym and Tony turn to stare at him.

Bruce blushes and takes off his glasses to clean them.

Miracle of miracles, Tony lets it go. “Your suit is wasted hung up in a closet collecting dust,” he says.

“I destroyed it,” Pym says.

“Uh huh. Like I believe that.”

“My work is too dangerous for anyone to use. Even me.”

With much waggling of his eyebrows, Tony indicates the plans for the new Yellowjacket suit.

“That wasn’t my idea,” Pym says. Grudgingly.

“So don’t let it happen,” Tony says. “Is it your company or not?”

Pym bares his teeth. “You’re one to talk.”

“Hey,” Bruce says. “That was uncalled for.”

“This isn’t any of your business,” Pym says. “Who even are you?”

Bruce folds his glasses carefully and tucks them into the back of Tony’s shirt. “I’m the Hulk,” he says.

Pym’s kind of blurry expression of total panic is oddly satisfying.

Tony almost pulls something he’s laughing so hard.

“Seriously, though,” Tony says. “Block it. Fire him. Do something.”

“I can’t,” Pym says. “I’m barely hanging on as it is. They’ve shuffled me off into an ‘advisory’ role. I built this company, with my own hands!”

“Yeah, yeah, in your garage with the sweat of your brow and whatever,” Tony says. “So if you can’t do it the legitimate way, put on your old suit and steal it.”

“I would never,” Pym gasps, in a way that says he totally thought of that already. “Anyway, Darren Cross used to be my protégé. He knows almost as much about the tech as I do.”

Tony whistles. “Tough break.”

There doesn’t seem to be much to say after that, except Tony thinking of new ways to insult Pym, so Bruce drags him away.

He finally gets some of his little cheese things.

It’s as they’re on their way out, heading for one of Tony’s many obnoxious cars, that they’re stopped by Hope van Dyne.

“I heard you talking to my father,” she says.

“Uh,” Bruce says, in that awkward ‘you are part of the establishment and heard us plotting to overthrow the establishment’ kind of way.

“I’m not really in favor of the Yellowjacket suit,” she says. “But one of us has to stay close enough to keep an eye on things, and god knows my father isn’t going to discover tact at this late date.”

“Should you really be telling us this?” Bruce asks.

“You’re the Avengers,” she says. “And you have to see that this is just a disaster waiting to happen.”

Bruce can, indeed, see that. He’s something of an expert in that field.

“It seems like he’s getting ready to do a whole lot of fuck-all about it,” Tony says, tactful as ever.

“I know how to use the suit,” she says. “I know where he keeps it.”

She and Tony share the kind of significant eye contact where whole conversations occur without a word.

“If both suits just happened to wander away and turn up at Stark Tower,” Tony says, “I can make sure no one gets their hands on them. I’m sure there’s got to be some kind of patent law somewhere to cover this. Didn’t Ant-Man originally belong to SHIELD? I’ll bury them in lawyers.”

“Hmm,” she says.

“You know, if,” he says. “And you can join our super-secret superhero science club. It’s the best.”

“I’ll think about it,” she promises.

“But not your father, because he’s a dick.”

She doesn’t disagree.

~*~

“We are not doing that again,” Bruce says, a few days later when Tony is starting to look twitchy. “No more CEOs, no more corporations. We have plenty of people for our club.”

“Bru-u-uce,” Tony whines.

But Bruce is unmoved.

“Excuse me,” someone says.

They turn to see who Pepper has sent them this time.

There’s a bald man in a wheelchair, looking so blandly innocuous that Bruce is instantly suspicious, and another man who is very… blue.

“You’re very blue,” Tony says.

Bruce kicks him.

“Yes,” the man says, sounding like he walked here straight from Oxford. “So I am.”

“Huh,” Tony says. “So are you a doctor, then?”

“Yes, and the charming redhead told me to tell you ‘yes, that kind of doctor.’”

“Ooh,” Tony says. “We don’t have one of those yet.”

The man seems to be relaxing minutely every second that no one says anything further about him being bright blue and sort of hairy.

“Oops, sorry,” Jane says, coming in late as usual and bumping into him. “New guy?”

“Maybe,” Tony says. “He hasn’t given us his superhero qualifications yet.”

The man pushes back his glasses, perched oddly on the end of a not-quite-human-shaped nose. “I am Doctor Hank McCoy,” he says.

“That kind of doctor?” Jane asks.

“Like from Star Trek?” Bruce asks.

“Yes and yes,” he says. “I also answer to Bones. And I’m one of the X-Men.”

“What, really?” Tony asks. “I didn’t think you guys were real.”

Dr. McCoy gives him a surprisingly aristocratic look of disdain for someone so… blue.

“But then, I used to think that about aliens, and nuclear weapons in New York.” Tony looks back and forth between the newcomers. “And, er, are you both here for the secret club?”

“I have a doctorate in genetics,” the bald guy says. He smiles innocuously. “And I can read minds.”

“Riiiiight,” Tony says, and slinks away to tinker with his robots.

“Please come in,” Bruce says, awkwardly. Jane, the traitor, is already buried in her work.

Bruce is pleasantly surprised that some of the tables are adjustable, and Jarvis is accommodating as always and projects a screen and touchpad for the bald guy. He really needs to find something else to call him.

“I am Professor Xavier,” he says, with a pleasant smile.

Bruce decides to do some slinking of his own.

Dr. McCoy makes good use of the facilities and discovers something important and probably revolutionary and they rush off the way people often do when they’re medical doctors and they’ve just solved some urgent problem.

“Well,” Tony says. “That was something.”

~*~

Dr. McCoy comes back often. Tony has better lab equipment, and mutants apparently have a lot of unique medical complications.

Bruce isn’t sure he believes all his stories. Surely not. A boy with lasers coming out his eyes? A girl with skin that sucks the life out of you?

“Think of what I could do with actual laser eyes,” Tony says gleefully.

“I’d rather not,” Bruce says.

“You can’t put those on the armor,” Jane says.

Bruce searches for a change of topic. “But the guy with the adamantium skeleton,” he says. “Surely not.”

“Oh, there’s a SHIELD file on him,” Tony says. “He’s like immortal or something.”

Bruce decides to just leave his suspension of disbelief behind. His life will be a lot easier that way.

Professor Xavier comes back once.

It is very memorable.

Tony is grumpy as hell because Victor von Doom, call me Doctor Doom, was only temporarily statued and has taken over the entire country of Latveria and started churning out killer robots.

Bruce waves to his suspension of disbelief. Because that is a B-movie sci-fi plot if he ever heard one.

This means Reed Richards is constantly around the labs, bugging Tony for help with the robots and generally getting in the way. Oh, he’s a brilliant scientist, but he’s about as much use as Bruce is when it comes to robotics.

But Doctor Doom is ‘his villain’, whatever that’s supposed to mean, and he feels like it’s his personal duty to hover.

Thor drops in at one point and pronounces that Doctor Doom is one of those rare mortals able to wield the arcane, and that’s why the robots seem to defy all known laws of science.

Tony throws a wrench at him.

They’re fresh out of magic-users, though Bruce does waste two hours of his life he’ll never get back on google, trying to see if there’s anyone legitimate out there, because after all he’s seen, why not?

He doesn’t find anything, though, and Jarvis kindly deletes his search history so he never has to own up to it.

And into all this, falls Professor Xavier’s second visit.

The man is a genius in the field of genetics, and would probably be a lot more accepted in the scientific community if he wasn’t so aggressively out as a mutant. And his power wasn’t kind of terrifying. But it’s hard to see what he would bring to the table against magic killer robots.

What he brings is the notorious terrorist known as Magneto.

Tony shrieks and falls over a table, which is perfectly understandable for a man who fights in a (metal) suit of armor and has an electromagnet in his chest. “What is he doing here?”

Magneto rolls his eyes. “I owe Charles a favor. Don’t worry, that silly tin can you insist on stuffing yourself into is safe.”

Tony’s mouth shuts, his eyes glitter, and it is on. No one insults the suit. “Get out of my clubhouse. You don’t even know the secret password.”

Bruce rolls his eyes. As he often does, since Tony barged into his life, he considers the situation carefully, and decides there’s no need to panic.

Unexpected giant man-lizard things? No problem. Corporate espionage with a superhero twist? All in a day’s work.

Everyone here is a superhero, or a superhero adjunct. He’ll be safe because he’s invulnerable, and they’re smart and capable enough to be safe from him.

And unlike some people, his superpower is in no way dependent on metal.

Magneto is singularly unimpressed by Tony’s dramatics. “I am the best mechanical engineer in the world—”

“You are not!”

“—and my expertise is at your disposal for the next,” he makes a show of checking his watch, “four hours.”

“There is nothing you could do with your fancy superpowers that I couldn’t,” Tony says.

Magneto raises one, elegant eyebrow. Elegantly. “I could disassemble and reassemble your pitiful little armor in five minutes. With my mind.”

Tony’s eyes narrow. “You could not.”

Magneto raises both eyebrows, and both hands.

The armor floats into the air, and collapses into a thousand little metal pieces, then comes back together again.

Bruce has to admit, it’s damn impressive.

Tony scowls.

Magneto smirks.

Then follows the most hostile partnership, no, not partnership, the most hostile maybe-sort-of-truce that Bruce has ever borne witness to, and he hopes he never sees it again.

But they do figure out how to stop the Doombots, so it comes out a win in the end.

~*~

When this mysterious Doctor Stephen Strange emerges, Bruce is helping the Fantastic Four with some fascinating space radiation problem and actually has a legitimate reason not to go with Tony to see if he’d be a good fit for their not-so-secret club, magic auxiliary. Since that’s a thing now.

Tony storms back into the lab a week later.

“Just no,” he says, before Bruce can even open his mouth. “Because fuck that guy.”

Well. Okay then.

~*~

Bruce can admit, though never to Tony, because he would just be insufferable, that this science clubhouse was maybe kind of a good idea.

They’re never all there at the same time, and Magneto thankfully doesn’t come back, but it’s nice, really, to be a part of the scientific community again, even if it’s the most bizarre and mismatched scientific community ever conceived of.

Most of them aren’t in the same field and can’t understand each other beyond the most basic, ‘I looked you up on Wikipedia so I wouldn’t look like an idiot’ kind of way. They are mutants, humans, metahumans, and whatever the hell Bruce is.

But when Jane Foster asks his opinion about the radiation levels in her space travel wormhole, it doesn’t matter so much that a journal rejected his article on account of him still being on the terrorist watchlist.

When Susan Storm and the Fantastic Four invite him up to their space station—in space!—to observe a nebula, it doesn’t matter that he has a lifetime ban from every legitimate scientific conference currently in existence.

And when he succumbs to the Tony Force and ends up tangled in yet another round of his ridiculous shenanigans, he can forget that he’s poor, uninteresting, world-class fuck-up Bruce Banner, and just be Bruce Banner.

And that makes is all worth it.


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