Title: A Common Disaster
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Genre: Canon Divergence
Relationship: Betty Ross/Bruce Banner
Warnings: No beta.
Word Count: ~2,600
Author Note: For the One Sentence Prompt on Rough Trade. You can find the challenge here. The title is taken from A Common Disaster by the Cowboy Junkies.
Keira’s Response: For the Heart That Cannot Vary (link to her site)
Prompt: She couldn’t follow him when he ran, but if Bruce is going to stay in New York with Tony Stark then Iron Man better have room for Betty Ross, too.
– – – –
“What’s up, J?” Tony replied from where he was lying on his back on the floor in the middle of his lab. He was beyond exhausted, but his mind wouldn’t settle and that always took him to his lab. Dum-E hovered nearby with a fire extinguisher, but Tony couldn’t be bothered to care about the possibility of getting doused with fire retardant.
“I have received a call from Dr. Elizabeth Ross.”
“Whoa!” Tony bolted upright. “Did you say you received a call?”
“She called and asked for me, yes.”
“Umm… Is that supposed to make sense?”
“In that she’s rather clever, Sir.”
“When she was unsuccessful at being connected to you or Dr. Banner when she dialed the main Stark Industries number, she then thought to call back and ask for me.”
“Wow.” Tony rubbed his hand over his face.
“As you know, I have a process set aside for monitoring requests for my assistance since you were without your phone in Amsterdam when—”
“And the less said about that the better,” Tony quickly interrupted, not needing that kind of reminder.
“As you say, Sir.”
“And what did Dr. Betty want?”
“She asked me to relay a message to you.”
“And that message would be?” Sometimes he was sure Jarvis was trolling him with his selective information relays.
“To quote her directly, she said ‘I’ve been more than patient waiting for Bruce to come around, but if Tony Stark thinks he’s keeping my Bruce and not inviting me to the party, he’s got another think coming. Tell Dr. Stark to buckle up. I’ll be there tonight.’”
“Oh. My. God!” Tony glanced around as if the answers to this problem could be found in his lab, or maybe as if he needed to tidy up or something. “We’re in the middle of a war zone!”
It had been five days, and Tony had considered relocating to the mansion, but he was out working with the clean-up crews every day, and it was easier to get there from the middle of the mess. Not that it wasn’t easy for Tony to fly in, but it drew more attention than he wanted right now. Stark Tower had cosmetic damage but no structural issues. There were several floors with missing windows but there were enough residence floors for he and Bruce—the only ones left in the tower—to have no issue residing there.
“I told Dr. Ross that the area was cordoned off, and she would be unable to travel to the tower. She expects you to meet her at the barricade at ten o’clock tonight to escort her through.”
Tony buried his face in his hands. “And why is Bruce’s former girlfriend—or is she current?—picking on me?”
“I believe she considers their relationship to still be in effect. She said you were less likely to run away.”
“I’m the less likely person to run? That’s messed up. Because I’m pretty sure I’m considering doing exactly that.” He stared around the lab. “Uh, what should I do? Should I tell Bruce?”
“I couldn’t possibly say, Sir.”
“You are no help, Jarvis.”
“How very unusual.”
Tony blew a raspberry and got to his feet, the edge having been taken off his exhaustion by the adrenaline rush. “I’m not sure bros spring something like this on each other.” He considered for a second. “But science bros totally would.” He nodded decisively. Bruce would have to deal with getting the news from Betty herself.
– – – –
Tony saw her standing off behind the barricade, backpack slung over her shoulder, watching everything attentively. She was dressed in clothing appropriate to tromping through rubble. As far as he could tell, she hadn’t made any attempt to approach, so hadn’t had any interaction with the police or private security the Department of Damage Control had hired.
He’d already obtained a pass into the restricted zone for her, claiming she was a scientist coming in to consult with Damage Control about structural issues. He stopped by the officer responsible for traffic in and out of the containment zone.
“Dr. Stark,” the officer said with a nod, and Tony appreciated the lack of fawning and stuttering. He still got it on occasion, but after five days, most of the people working in the containment area were used to seeing him around and working with him. There was something almost therapeutic about working side-by-side with other residents of the city to help come back from the disaster.
“Officer Mallory,” he greeted, handing over the pass. “I’m here to meet and escort a scientist who’ll be staying in the zone to help the Department of Damage Control assess structural damage of several buildings.”
Mallory looked everything over then waved over Dr. Ross, who hadn’t missed Tony’s arrival. He asked for her ID, perusing everything carefully. He then handed everything back, including the security pass. “You’re listed as escort required, Dr. Ross, so please be sure you’re with Dr. Stark or someone from Damage Control at all times when you’re on the street or in a red building. Red buildings also require hard hats and a locator chip at all times.”
“I have her gear back at the tower,” Tony supplied.
“Have a good night, Dr. Ross, Dr. Stark.”
As soon as they were away from the cordon, she stopped and held out her hand. “Dr. Elizabeth Ross. Feel free to call me Betty.”
“Tony,” he returned, shaking her hand.
“You know I’m not remotely qualified to do structural assessments, correct?”
Tony grinned. “You can’t possibly be worse than this one city engineer I met yesterday. He and math weren’t actually acquainted. But he’s already gone and, truthfully, the city has that whole thing handled. It was just an easy cover to get you in the containment zone. Damage Control needed something on the paperwork, but they’re letting me bring in whoever I say I need.”
“Does Bruce know I’m coming?”
“Hell no.” Tony shook his head emphatically, earning a laugh from her. “I’m not getting in the middle of that.”
It was only about a half mile to Stark Tower, but she was quiet for a long time before saying, “I let Bruce have his space because I understood why he had to go. It wasn’t just his fear of what might happen in an urban environment, it was also my father and his unrelenting, well, stalking of Bruce. His desire to control Bruce’s…alter ego is deeply disturbing on several levels.”
“I call him Green Bean.”
She laughed again. “It suits.” She shot him a look. “I gather you’ve figured out that Green Bean isn’t a real threat?”
“Oh, he’s dangerous, but he’s not a danger. He’s kind of like a kid.”
“Probably in more ways than you know,” she murmured, and Tony wasn’t poking at that. “In any case, I gather Bruce has your protection now, and that’s why he’s staying…?”
“I’ll do anything to protect Bruce, it’s true, but SHIELD has also promised to keep General Ross at bay.”
She halted, lips pressed into a thin line. “Well, there’ll be no trusting SHIELD if I have anything to say about it. Aren’t they the ones who shot a nuclear weapon at New York?”
“Their oversight committee, but, yes.”
“That’s not gonna fly.” She started walking again, but it was more of a stomp. “I think it’s time to raise Green Bean’s public profile.”
Tony ground to a halt and blinked a few times before catching up to her. “I don’t quite follow.”
“Bruce is trying too hard to contain Hulk. That’s clearly not the way to go, and we need public sentiment on Bruce’s side. So, let’s show them how amazing he really is.”
“Dr. Betty… Do you have a plan here?” He was horrified but also amused and intrigued.
“I definitely have a plan. And Bruce is going to hate it.”
Tony rubbed his hands together. “I think we’re going to be great friends.”
– – – –
Tony was startled out of his ruminations when Bruce stormed into his lab, followed by Betty, who looked relaxed with her hands in her pockets.
“Tell me you don’t support this plan!” Bruce ground out, looking a little too green around the edges for Tony’s liking.
“Whoa.” Tony made a time-out gesture. “Sensitive equipment in here, so let’s have a Zen moment and tell Green Bean to chill.”
“He’s not upset,” Bruce hollered. “I am. He thinks this is a good idea.”
“And what is this, exactly?” Tony asked, trying to be as calm as possible.
“I think Hulk should help with the cleanup,” Betty said.
Tony’s mouth fell open. “I’m sorry, what now?”
“See?” Bruce turned to Betty. “It’s a terrible idea.”
“That’s not at all what I thought you meant when you talked about raising Green Bean’s visibility.” Tony was thinking it through and wondering how to make it work.
“Look,” Betty began, hands on her hips in the classic pose guaranteed to drive fear into the hearts of all sensible men, “we both know that Hulk is fairly gentle and pretty damn reasonable when he’s not being threatened or people he cares about aren’t in danger. So we need to play that up and, as I understand it, the biggest issue in clearing the containment zone is how long it’s taking to cut down those leviathan thingies.”
Tony frowned. “True. We can’t get most of the equipment we need into the places we need it. Yet. And that’s been leaving me to do a lot of it with the Iron Man suit, but I’m burning through cores on the arc reactor like they were energy bars trying to cut through those leviathan hides.”
“And yet Bruce’s greener side can tear those things apart like tissue paper. So we have him go out there and do the thing, and get some good press for Bruce.”
“It’s a terrible idea!” Bruce hollered.
Tony scratched his chin. “It could work.”
“We’d have to do some careful controls on the scene. Betty and I would have to be on hand since Jolly Green likes us best.”
“It’s too dangerous for her.”
“Robert Bruce Banner!” Betty hollered. “He has never hurt me, and you know it. He’d never allow me to be hurt. So don’t act like I am the reason you have to keep your greener light buried under a bushel!”
Tony laughed. “I like her way more than you.”
Bruce scowled at him. “You’re not helping.”
“Sure I am. I’m going to help Dr. Betty by working out the logistics on her plan. And then I’m going to make you some stretchy pants so you don’t flash everyone.”
“No.” Bruce crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not doing it. It’ll be a disaster.”
“But we’ll be in it together, baby.” Betty leaned in and pressed a kiss to Bruce’s cheek. “Come on. Let’s go back to your room and talk about it some more.”
Bruce glared. “You’re going to try to persuade me by making me forget what I was even arguing about.”
“And I’m really good at that, aren’t I,” she said seductively.
Tony held up his hands in a warding off gesture. “Whoa. No seduction in my lab that I’m not involved in. And Bruce, you know you’re going to give in, so you might as well go get laid.”
– – – –
“How’s Brucie’s publicity campaign going, Jarvis?” Tony asked as he spun around on his lab stool. Having Hulk tear apart the leviathans had been a brilliant idea. When Bruce let Green Bean out on purpose, the big guy was both fairly calm and easy to communicate with. And he’d been delighted to tear apart the leviathans.
Damage Control had made sure Bruce had a very wide perimeter in which to work to ensure no one got hurt, but over the course of the last couple days, people kept moving in closer and even interacting with Hulk more. The Big Guy definitely took to some people and others not so much, but Betty had always been on hand and read the signs easily when Hulk didn’t care for someone.
Tony was curious about the people Hulk instinctively didn’t like. The Big Guy was pretty genial when he came out on purpose, so why did he have an instant hate-on for some people? Jarvis had recorded everything when Hulk was about, so Tony was checking into a few people to see if there was any pattern to who set Hulk on edge.
Overall, the whole thing with Hulk seemed to be a raging success. After two days of work, they not only had accomplished more than the prior six days combined, but they were almost done clearing alien debris away from streets and buildings. Because not only could Hulk tear things apart like whoa, but he could carry a fuckton. As long as Betty was walking along with him, talking to him about the weather, aliens, cellular biology, or whatever, Hulk was happy to plod back and forth with tons of alien scrap. And sometimes actual building scrap too.
Tony’s lab displays lit up with news articles and twitter feeds.
“Dr. Banner and his alter ego are trending worldwide, Sir.”
“Is that…” Tony enlarged a picture. “Where did Betty find a kitten?” The top trending photo on Twitter and Instagram was a picture of Betty holding up a tiny fluff of a kitten to Hulk, and Hulk carefully petting with one big green finger.
“There were stray animals throughout the containment zone. Dr. Ross turned quite a few over to the ASPCA during her journeys through the zone with Dr. Banner.”
“That woman is devious and brilliant.”
“And it would seem that she likes animals, Sir.”
Tony scoffed. “Perhaps, but I’m sticking with brilliant and devious.”
The duo were sickeningly in love, and Tony wondered how Bruce ever walked away from Betty in the first place. In truth, he envied Bruce more than a little. Betty’s acceptance of Hulk was absolute, and Tony couldn’t help but compare it to how Pepper had called their relationship quits right after the invasion. It was all done very politely and nicely, but he wasn’t prepared to stop being Iron Man, and she wasn’t prepared to stay with him otherwise.
Pangs of envy aside, Tony was happy for Bruce—no one deserved something good more than Brucie Bear. He’d been through way too much, and the government hadn’t stopped trying even in the face of Hulk’s contribution to protecting the Earth from the Chitauri.
Thaddeus Ross had tried to make a move after the first day of Hulk helping out with the clean up, but public sentiment had turned against him and his buddies so hard that the President himself had shut Ross down, personally calling Tony to tell him that the U.S. Government had no interest in making an enemy of Dr. Banner, and that the U.S. military complex would be leaving them all alone.
“Dr. Ross has just posted to Twitter again, Sir.” The screen flashed and a new tweet appeared.
It was a picture of Bruce and Betty hanging out in the kitchen on what Tony knew to be the party deck. The same kitten from the trending photo was sitting perched on Bruce’s shoulder, batting at his ear.
The tweet read, “Iron Kitten here to stay. Her name is Stark. Thank you, @thetonystark, for everything. #IronKit #TonyStarkRules.”
“Well hell.” He couldn’t help but grin.
Bruce had predicted a disaster, and Tony was pretty sure a kitten named Stark qualified.
– – – –
Art by Polaris. Keira cast Indira Varma as Betty Ross, and that has become my headcanon. So I’ve hijacked Indira for Betty too!
EndNote: You can answer this prompt if you’d like (see the Rough Trade link above), but you do not have permission to continue my work.