The Stark Expo, round hopefully-nothing-hideously-awful-happens-this-time, and Bruce flips through his notecards again and winces at the roar of the crowd just beyond the stage. He told Tony a hundred times that this was stupid, a recipe for exactly the sort of disaster he’s trying to avoid, and Tony just smirked and shook his head.
“The Stark Expo is for the best and brightest,” he said, so many times that he might as well have tattooed it to his forehead, “and you’re both, Banner, what else is new? What do they call that color you go exactly—whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s definitely bright enough to fit the bill, c’mon, don’t leave me hanging here.”
Tony, Bruce reflects darkly, is a worse nightmare than Bruce’s worse nightmares. That, when you get right down to it, is really saying something.
To his right, a tech beckons to him, indicating the end of his borrowed peace. Bruce takes a deep breath, pushes down the nerves as best he can, and takes the first step towards the podium. If he’s lucky, the Other Guy won’t come out to play; if he’s really lucky, he’ll make it through the presentation without tripping over his own tongue. He doesn’t dare hope for more than that, because he’s learned better than to overreach himself. Manageable goals, that’s the key. Manageable goals, and possibly some sort of cream to stop his hands sweating—if it doesn’t exist yet, it can’t be that hard to invent.
He’s halfway across the stage when the music starts; Bruce doesn’t recognize it for a second, and then every speaker in the room sings out, “I’m blue, da ba dee da ba die.” His nerves fade away to an irritation he isn’t used to anymore, something nowhere near as dangerous as anger but less achingly dull than the inner calm he used to strive for, and when he gets to the podium, the audience is already laughing.
“So I’m here,” Bruce says, abandoning his notecards for the facts he knows cold, “at the behest of a man who thinks he’s so funny,” and in the front row, Tony smiles.