Bruce Banner had never been a superhero before. Or anything like it. He was just a scientist, not even a mad scientist, he was just working in a lab and an accident happened and… well, the rest was history. He had probably saved some people as the Hulk, but he was fairly certain he’d killed more. He tried not to think about that.
Everyone else on the team, though, had been a hero first. With varying degrees of experience in military tactics. Bruce had picked some up while on the run, but no one expected him to have them and he had no interest in letting them down. He still didn’t trust SHIELD, he was constantly working on his escape plan in case they decided that they actually were going to throw him in that cage they’d built for him, that they were renovating every other battle after realizing it wouldn’t hold.
Not that he never used his tactical abilities to help the team, he just kept them from realizing it. He had yet to go into a battle as the Hulk, he would always hang back, listening to them communicate by radio and scoping the situation. Eventually they’d tell him what they wanted- all he could really do was focus and hope that the Hulk would follow through. Sometimes he’d see a better angle, and do that instead. The mistake, of course, was blamed on the Hulk and no one could argue with the results.
This also meant that Bruce got a unique, for the Avengers, opportunity to watch the fights as an outside observer. They found themselves fighting Loki often enough, and Bruce found himself admiring his flair. Hearing the bits that Thor would tell them about his brother, some of which he overheard by accident, made him a bit more curious. It almost pained him to think that he felt more akin to the awkward genius who never quite fit in before finding out he was a monster. Hearing the plans that, were he to be captured, Loki was to immediately be locked up in the very cage made to house the Hulk, well, it didn’t help.
Not that he could talk to any of them about his misgivings or concerns.
Or his insecurities.
Or anything, really.
Tony was the most comfortable around him, but he was just bothered with trying to get him Hulk out. Bruce honestly appreciated the attempts, not treating him with kid gloves, but Tony was not someone you had a deep conversation about your feelings with. As grateful as he was to have any interaction with someone that didn’t involve treating him like he had a bomb strapped to his chest, having no one to talk to left him feeling very lonely.
That was it. He was just lonely. He clung to that thought while watching the battles Loki would conduct as if it were a grand orchestra. While his mind wandered during the tales of how Thor had restrained the Hulk single handedly without coming off with so much of a scratch and wondering if that ran in the family, or what that might mean. He was just lonely, latching onto the least possible option to keep from getting hurt.
It wasn’t really hard to convince himself that it was just loneliness, not when the rest of his team mates so obviously didn’t trust him. Occasionally he’d run into unofficial team bonding sessions that they all agreed to and which no one had bothered telling him about, after the excrutiatingly awkward first time that he tried to actually join in, he just let them to it without comment. It was easier that way.
So when he noticed that everyone except him happened to be together in the common area they had at SHIELD, it was far from unusual. He was about to turn to leave when he noticed that it did not seem to be a pleasant meeting. He glanced over the group and realized that something was very wrong, even Tony and Barton looked stern. In fact, Barton was visibly shaken up. That was something he’d never expected to see.
He hovered in the doorway nervously, not sure that he was welcome to join them.
“Doctor Banner!” Natasha said, sounding a bit surprised. All eyes were on him and he fidgeted nervously. Natasha crossed the room quickly and guided him out of the room a ways, “I’m glad you’re here.”
Bruce was not sure he believed that. “What’s going on?”
“Clint was training at the archery range here and Loki came to him-” she faltered for a moment, “no one saw him come in and Clint did not hear him approach. We aren’t certain how he managed it.”
“What did he do?” Bruce asked warily, “He didn’t look hurt.”
“No, he attacked Clint with words, seems he has a talent for picking up your insecurities and attacking them,” Natasha explained, shaking her head. “Thor was afraid he would do that.”
They fell silent for a moment. Thor had warned them that Loki had always been better at talking his way into and out of situations than using force, that the battles were probably just his way of measuring them up before he started his real assault. Apparently it had started.
“Clint will be fine,” Natasha said firmly, “Loki is not as skilled as he would like to think.” She glanced away slightly, “But we are worried about what will happen when he attacks you in such a way.”
“You think he’s going to be coming after me? Here? Not to fight but to mess with my head?” he did not have to fake the look of panic. There were numerous ways that could end badly.
“We have to be aware of the possibility, he may be coming after all of us now. I know that we have not gotten along very well, but we are on the same team,” she looked up at him with the softest expression he’d seen from her, “If you need help- please come to us. We do not want to lose you from the team.”
He couldn’t believe that, but it was nice to hear anyways. He smiled at her, “Hey- he’ll only try what Tony’s been doing since I got here, try to find a way to get me to Hulk out. If Tony can’t do it, I can’t imagine some Norse God can be any more annoying than him.”
Natasha’s lip quirked upward slightly, “Yes, that is true. But the offer still stands.”
“Of course,” he said, smiling what he hoped was a friendly smile. It dropped for a moment, “What have Fury and Coulson said? Are there any new regulations?”
Natasha’s smile fell and she shook her head, “It did not seem pressing enough, I wanted to give Clint time to recover before he had to deal with the questions and all of that.” She glanced up at him, “I still thought you ought to know, we don’t know how long it will be until he strikes next.”
“I understand, thank you for telling me,” he said quietly, “I need to get back to my lab, though, please tell Clint that I hope he’s doing well.”
“I will,” she agreed quietly, watching him walk away down the hall.
Bruce did not get any more work done that way, his mind was whirring with possibilities and concerns and some thoughts he really didn’t want to be having.
The next day was a meeting with a particularly irate Fury, he apparently did not appreciate being kept in the dark for a few hours. After a short lecture about why he needed to be the first one told about these things, he showed part of the footage from the surveillance tape.
He paused it at one point, making everyone in the room wonder if they were just admiring Clint’s archery skills- a suggestion Clint actually verbalized before a look from Fury shut him up.
“Now watch carefully,” Fury insisted, never one to let a meeting get away from him. He hit play and several seconds later Loki simply appeared. In a puff of green smoke. And then look straight at the security camera and smirked before leaning over to Clint. Fury stopped the tape.
“So there’s a trap door,” Tony said, unimpressed, “I’ve seen this act before. It’s not difficult.”
“We checked, Stark,” Fury said tersely.
Clint shook his head, “You really think I wouldn’t have noticed a trap door? Or someone opening it behind me?”
“That would raise a few more concerns if there were one,” Natasha pointed out, “It would mean that he’d have the ability to put one in or navigate SHIELD better than any of us.”
“It was magic.” The group turned to Thor, who had been sitting in stony silence until now. Most seemed to think that was obvious, Tony looked torn between laughing and shouting.
“There’s got to be a better explanation than that- a possible explanation,” Bruce pointed out, laughing nervously.
“As possible as instantaneous travel across space faster than the speed of light?” Fury asked. Bruce stared at him for several moments before looking to the rest of the group for an explanation.
“I don’t think Doctor Banner has had any experience with the bifrost,” Thor pointed out, before shaking his head, “Loki has always been a skilled sorceror. He initially used his power for harmless pranks and aid when I would drag him into battle… This is what he’s been using to defeat us, you’ve all seen it even if you don’t want to accept it as such.”
“But magic isn’t… that’s not…,” Bruce shook his head, not quite able to articulate how wrong it was.
Tony crossed his arms, “There’s no such thing as magic- if it exists then it can be explained by science and it’s not magic.”
Clint stared at him for a moment, “We’ve got the fucking Norse God of Thunder sitting at the table and the thought of magic is too much for you?”
“You are not yet at the point of being able to explain all of this with science,” Thor said as kindly as he could manage, rather than letting the argument go on, “there are some things that my brother is capable of that our scholars are not yet able to explain, either. It is simply easier to call it magic than try to explain how it works.”
“So now I’m expected to believe that the man who didn’t know how to work a microwave is from a civilization with hyper-advanced technology that I can’t even grasp. Is that it?” Tony scoffed.
“You aren’t expected to believe anything, Stark,” Fury said harshly, “This is what we’re up against.” He turned to Thor, ignoring any objections, “Can you counter this?”
“No,” he replied grimly, “I’ve never had a talent for such things. The skills you’ve seen in combat are the most that I can do. I certainly could not overpower my brother.”
“Do you have any suggestions of what we should do?” Natasha asked.
Fury shook his head, “Until we have a magic user on hand for testing, we can hardly come up with a way to keep him out of here. And as long as he’s able to do that, well, I think we’d all better hope he keeps to mind games.”
Tony and Bruce shared a look, thinking about the havoc that could be caused if Loki got into their lab.
“Short of telling you to go on the buddy system,” Bruce couldn’t help but think that he gave him a look at that suggestion, “there doesn’t seem to be any advice than to be prepared,” Fury paused for effect and glared at them all, “And next time he strikes- I am to be informed immediately.”
After a few more arguments and some hopeless brainstorming for what to do, they were dismissed. The second they were, Tony demanded that Bruce go back to the lab so that they could make a backup of their data and practically dragged him there. Bruce couldn’t help but wonder if Tony had noticed the look on the suggestion of a buddy system and was pulling him away before Fury could tell him that he needed a chaperone from now on. He appreciated it even if it was unintentional.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Everyone was notably on edge at that point, and seemed to be more protective of each other. Bruce was practically dragged to have dinner with them instead of staying in the lab. He ended up just staying quiet, not really able to keep up with Tony or Clint’s ribbing. This kept up for a few days before they started relaxing a bit. With the very real danger of villains attacking the city, and how exhausted they ended up afterwards, it was hard to really care that much about the potential threat of someone possibly showing up at SHIELD.
The next time they fought Loki, everyone fought harder than anyone could remember. There were a few times that Clint missed his target, though, and Bruce couldnt’ help but notice a smirk on Loki’s face when he did. Bruce also found himself a bit more aware of anything “magical” that Loki did, and wondered how he’d managed to ignore it before now. It wasn’t a comfortable thought.
It was several still uneventful days, well as uneventful as the Avengers could have, after that that Bruce found his stash of teas had run out. He knew by now not to bother looking to anywhere else, most people in SHIELD was addicted to coffee so even plain black tea was scarce, not that he felt comfortable with any extra caffeine in his system. This took him by surprise, he was fairly certain that he still had a half dozen bags of chamomile, but it was hardly the first time that he’d lost track of how much tea he actually had on hand.
This had happened enough that it was fairly routine for him, there was a decent health food store only a few blocks down. Each time he let Tony know that he was heading out and Tony offered the use of his car before Bruce reminded him that even if he still had his license, it would be well past expired. And driving around a big city was just not a good idea for him anyways.
Every time he walked out the front door of SHIELD he half-expected to be tackled down and told he wasn’t allowed to. Thusfar this hadn’t happened, and it was almost enough to make him feel like he wasn’t there just because he’d be locked up otherwise.
Almost, but not quite.
He ran out of tea often enough that some of the staff at the health food store recognized him, if he were a little better with people he may have tried befriending some of them just to have someone outside of SHIELD to chat with. It was nice to have people smile at him when they recognized him, without any hint of fear, though.
He waved back to the few, chuckled at the person who asked if he was ever going to buy anything except tea, and made a beeline to the same aisle he always went to.
There was no reason to leave quickly, and there was something nice about being in the store, so he let himself browse rather than just grabbing the usual ones. Some brand had come out with a new blend, he picked it up and pondered on it for awhile.
“You seem to know what you’re doing here, do you have any suggestions?”
Bruce had gotten questions like that a few times from a customer who didn’t feel like tracking down an employee. It was kind of nice, so he just smiled. “Well, that really depends on what you’re looking—” he stopped after actually looking at the source of the question.
He had never stopped to consider what Loki would look like in plain clothes, only ever seeing him in his Asgardian outfit in fights. With his carefully done hair, expensive clothes, and lithe figure Bruce was rather surprised to realize that Loki looked completely in place at an overpriced food store. That probably shouldn’t have been what he was thinking.
Loki continued as if this were a perfectly normal conversation, “I admit, I’ve always been partial to green tea- if only because I simply love the color green.” Bruce felt the hairs on his neck stand on end at the look Loki gave him as he said green. “It’s a delightful color, don’t you think?”
“I admit, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth now.”
Loki raised an eyebrow and glanced at the shelves, “Well that is good to know, then what sort of tea would you prefer, Doctor Banner?”
“Chamomile and mint are both good for calming the nerves, I tend to stick to them.” Why was he answering honestly?
“You look like you could use some right now. Something bothering you?” That all too familiar smirk was on his face while he said it.
“What are you doing here?” Bruce asked, shaking himself slightly and glancing down the aisle. There was no one in sight, but he still didn’t want to make a scene here. Not just because of the risk of property damage, he liked it here and didn’t want to end up banned.
“A man isn’t allowed to enjoy—-” he eyed one of the boxes suspiciously, “Citrus lavendar sage tea? Interesting.” Loki shook his head before looking directly at Bruce, “Would you rather go somewhere else to talk, if this isn’t a good place for it?”
“What makes you think I want to talk with you, Loki?”
“I’ve seen you watching me,” he didn’t look smug now, tracing a finger over a flower on one of the boxes, Bruce wasn’t sure how to read him.
He looked down the aisle again, taking a step closer to him that he knew he shouldn’t to hiss as quietly as possible, “You’re our enemy- you tend to watch the person you’re fighting.”
“Yes, because I’m the one to worry about, and not the army who’s actually attacking you,” Loki raised an eyebrow, but still wasn’t watching Bruce.
He could probably run, but to what purpose? Loki could be wherever he wanted, who knew what he would do. Thor had make it clear that if Loki was anything, he was unstable and had no qualms about hurting people.
“What are you doing here? Wouldn’t it be easier to just break into SHIELD again?”
“I’m not sure if you realize just how constantly you’re under surveillance at those “headquarters” of yours, this is really the only way I could talk to you alone,” he finally put the box back, “I already made that point. None of you will find a way to stop me, as I’m sure Thor has told you, even if he hasn’t- you won’t. The longer I go without returning, the lower their guard will be.”
“I thought you did that to attack Clint,” Bruce said, common sense screaming at him not to be having this conversation. Not to act as though the Contriver of Fraud was telling him the truth. …not to think that this was the most comfortable conversation he’d had in too many years.
“Is that the archer’s name?” he asked vaguely. He glanced pointedly at Bruce, “Has he been reduced to a mess such that he has to be locked up for his own good?”
“No,” Bruce gave him a confused look, suddenly realizing that not only had Loki started walking but he had as well.
“Then I didn’t attack him- I merely toyed with him a little.” Loki smirked viciously, “I admit I thought he would be a bit sturdier than that.”
A chill went down Bruce’s spine, they were almost out of the store and that let common sense win the battle. He needed to get away. Now he regretted never getting a cell phone. Not that he’d needed one before now.
“Is that what you plan to do to me, then?”
“It’s a possibility,” he said casually, “Although I assumed that attempts to break you would end in various degrees of property destruction.”
“I assumed that would be why you’d want to.”
Loki smiled a strangely pleasant smile, “Perhaps somewhere else, it seemed like you liked that store.”
Bruce wondered if that was as close as he got to nice. He sighed, “Again- why here? Why… at all?”
“Ah, I’d love to answer but I’m afraid that’s all the time I have,” he said calmly, handing Bruce a few boxes of tea seemingly from out of nowhere before disappearing. There was no green smoke this time, no one noticed- of course no one noticed, it was New York City, you could walk down the street naked and no one would notice. Or perhaps Tony had been making that story up.
He wasn’t really sure what to do with the boxes. His first instinct was that they weren’t paid for but he wasn’t entirely sure what he should do with them. Two of them weren’t blends he’d tried, and one chamomile from the brand he usually got. That had the exact same dent in it from when he’d dropped a book on the box he thought he’d still had. Bruce awkwardly juggled the boxes so that he could open that one. It was half empty, with a note in it.
Hope you don’t mind, I borrowed these to try. Take the other tea as my thanks.
Bruce hurried back to SHIELD, trying to block out any thoughts about what had just happened.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
Tony notices something is wrong, Bruce ends up in the medbay after a mission.
Bruce didn’t want to find out if there was a security camera in his room, so he didn’t ask to try to find out when Loki had been there. He didn’t want to think about how his room wasn’t safe, how expertly he’d been manipulated to the point that, if Loki hadn’t told him, he’d have never have known. So he didn’t.
He got back and avoided answering any questions from Tony, hoping to throw himself into his work. This would be a lot easier, except that Tony had been more certain to be in the lab about whenever he was since Loki had intruded at SHIELD. So this wasn’t like when he used to bury himself in work, when it meant he was alone so no one could notice how he was doing.
It only took an hour for Tony to figure out that his limits were considerably more within the playboy’s reach and were probably better not to push quite so much. Not that he stopped with the teasing completely, neither of them wanted that, but it was just the playful ribbing they’d fell into instead of his attempts to figure out just how much Bruce could take. He never asked, though, Tony never really asked.
A few days later, Bruce had fallen into a sleeping and eating schedule that Tony was famous for, one that left him dizzy and weak from hunger and sleep deprivation as he didn’t have coffee or alcohol or whatever it was Tony lived off of to fall back on. It was a schedule that he had sometimes managed during post-grad work, before the accident, when he was still young enough to.
“So, what’s been going on?” Tony asked after the schedule started really wearing on Bruce.
“What makes you think anything’s going on?” he was too tired to manage nonchalance, it just sounded pathetic and he knew it.
Tony held up the screen in his hands, “You filled in all the numbers on the chart with “42”.”
Bruce glanced over with a strained smile, “It’s the answer to everything.”
“Uh huh,” Tony raised an eyebrow, “Did you actually read that book?”
“I know. Sorry,” he muttered, pulling the graph up on the computer and undoing what he’d just done.
Tony shook his head, “I’ll go make you some coffee,.”
“No!” Bruce knocked over the chair he was in, standing up so quickly.
Tony turned around and raised his eyebrows, “All the attempts to electrecute you and coffee is what gets under your skin?”
“I can’t have caffeine. It increases your heart rate,” he explained blankly, biting his lip.
“So you have enough control to withstand me but not a cup of Joe?” Tony shook his head, “You can’t keep working like this.”
“I just haven’t been sleeping that well, I’m fine,” Bruce said uprighting the chair and situating himself in it.
Tony walked over to the chair and rolled it away from the computer, “You’re really not, and I’m not going to have you working on a computer that can control dangerous machinery like this.”
“I won’t hurt anything, Tony, I promise.”
“You’ll hurt yourself if you keep going like this.”
“It doesn’t even matter- as long as I can Hulk out, that’s all any of you need.” That came out too angry, when it shouldn’t have come out at all.
Okay, he really needed to sleep, he shouldn’t have said that, he shouldn’t have snapped at Tony. He covered his face with his hands. The chair had finally stopped rolling, but with the way the back of the chair was angled he could tell that Tony’s hands were still on it.
“I’m sorry, Tony, I didn’t mean to say that… I shouldn’t have said that.”
Tony spun the chair around to face him before taking a few steps back, his arms crossed while he waited for Bruce to look up at him.
“You really think that, don’t you?” Tony was looking at Bruce with the same face he used when a machine wasn’t working correctly and he couldn’t figure out why.
“Look, I really didn’t mean to say it. Can we just forget it?” he was too tired to deal with his issues right now. Not that he thought Tony Stark of all people would be able to.
Tony nodded, “Yeah, I’ll drop it, that’s fair. But just for now, that’s not something I can just forget, Bruce.” Bruce groaned at that, burying his face in his hands again. Tony frowned, “So is that what’s been getting to you?”
“I wish.” Again Bruce was reminded that he needed to get some sleep, as apparently sleep deprivation broke down whatever filter stopped him from saying ridiculous things. He stood up before Tony could say anything. “I’m going to try to get some sleep, okay?”
“Yeah,” Tony said, not trying to stop Bruce but looking like he wanted to say something else, “If you’re sure. Okay.”
Bruce started back to his room internally cursing himself for being in such a state. It had been a long time since he’d been in this state, not since he’d joined the Avengers. He lay in his bed, trying to meditate as he couldn’t sleep, while one thought refused to leave his mind no matter how many mantras he muttered.
Had Loki known this would happen? Had this been his plan?
It turned out that Bruce had gotten rather lucky by getting a decent amount of sleep the night before. The next day the Avengers had to Assemble against some alien invasion or another. These happened far too often, Bruce thought, considering that he’d never heard of them happening before he joined SHIELD.
For all he snapped at Tony, being in such a bad state made the transformations so unbearable that he genuinely thought that he might not survive them. He still wasn’t doing that great, one night of sleep and a passable meal won’t repair a week of neglect, but he was functional enough to be of use. Well, to convince everyone, particularly Tony, that he was doing well enough to help them. Of course, he ended up spending a good hour longer in the med bay afterwards to recuperate than he usually needed, but that wasn’t unexpected.
Steve checked in on him while in the med bay, which at first was unexpected but on reflection wasn’t. Steve had been in the military and was probably used to checking up on his men when they were wounded in battle.
It wasn’t much of a visit, Steve first assessing his condition and then scolding him for taking the risk of going out when he wasn’t in good enough condition. It reminded him of something his mother would do when he’d gotten hurt in some experiment that a 5 year old had no business performing. He tried not to think about it too much, but it was a bit nice.
“I mean it,” Steve said, dropping the commanding soldier voice, probably noting that Bruce looked a bit disturbed at being talked to that way, “If you aren’t feeling up to it- don’t go out into battle. You’ll do more harm than good.”
“Y-yeah, sorry,” he mumbled, not really sure what else to say. Steve excused himself then, leaving Bruce alone with his headache. It was another 20 minutes after Steve left before they released Bruce. He was getting used to it, but the medical personelle gave him a wider berth and warier looks than he liked, and the guard wearing SWAT gear and armed with tranquilizer darts in his gun always sitting in the corner, watching him, well that was more than a little bit off putting. They could use a seminar on bedside manner, this did nothing to help him stay calm.
Still, he thanked them when he left, going to put on spare clothes from the locker that they let him keep so he didn’t have to wander around the building in scrubs, before heading back to his room for some decent quality rest. He’d been avoiding tea since his run-in with Loki, but could go for a cup right now.
He walked into his room, closing and locking the door behind him, making a beeline for the electric kettle in his room, stopping halfway there. There is a cup on his desk, which in itself isn’t unusual. He had a bad habit of leaving half finished cups of tea around, especially when called on a mission or meeting. This cup, however, was one that he was fairly sure he didn’t own and appeared to have a business card leaning against it. Closer inspection showed that steam was wafting from it. It was still hot.
He picked up the small card, already fairly certain what it was, but hoping that somehow Tony had decided to break into his room and make him tea. Or maybe Clint, Clint seemed impulsive enough to do something like that. The flourishy green handwriting on the card, however, proved otherwise. It reminded him of the cursive on centuries old documents, nothing like he’d imagine Tony or Clint writing with.
‘ You looked like you needed this. ’
Bruce looked between the note and the cup for a few moments, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
Bruce runs tests on tea, Tony gets him to stop working at a reasonable hour, and Steve does the dishes.
Having the God of Mischief break into your room and make you tea was something that Bruce was not terribly willing to trust. Fortunately he knew how to test for a good range of poisons with things that he had in his room. Several hours of wishing the room had better ventilation, he’d worked in worse conditions but had gotten used to a proper lab, and everything had come up negative. The tea was also still piping hot, it had apparently been… magic’ed… to stay hot, a thought that bothered Bruce as a scientist but also because he couldn’t test if there were any magical poisons or curses or whatnot.
He finally picked it up and sniffed it nervously, wafting the steam to his nose the same way that he did with chemicals you shouldn’t inhale too much of. Chamomile, he could tell that since he’d started the tests, and possibly a bit of lemon balm. That mix, he’d heard, was good for calming tantrum-prone children. He pressed his lips into a tight line, trying very hard to feel insulted, when he really felt like laughing. There wasn’t anything off about the scent, nothing extra, there didn’t seem to be any reason to worry.
Not having any other tests to run, he finally licked his lips and decided to just try it. It wasn’t too hot, a concern he’d had, the cup certainly felt like it should have been burning his tongue. It was fairly good, it tasted like it had been made from freshly picked herbs, Loki apparently knew what he was doing. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do with that thought.
For some reason, Bruce felt the desire to get ahold of Loki and ask about this, what this meant, if it meant anything, and if it didn’t, why he was only messing with Bruce’s head. Well, he thought that was the case anyways. He rather hoped that someone would tell him if Loki had been causing trouble for the other Avengers.
After finishing the tea, Bruce turned the card that had come with it over in his hand, a thought coming to him. It was a rather foolish idea, one that he actually hoped didn’t work, but it was still one. He washed the cup before putting it back where he had found it, scrawling ‘Thank you for the tea. Would it be possible to meet with you again?’ on the back in the nicest handwriting he could manage, feeling self-conscious next to Loki’s near perfect script, and placed it on top of the cup before heading down to the lab.
Tony glanced up when Bruce came in, and smiled slightly, “I was thinking of sending out a search party- I thought you’d be here sooner.”
“Today was a bit rougher than it should be,” he answered with a shrug, “Steve told me off for going out like that, actually.”
“Not surprised, you were pretty bad off. We almost had an incident while you were Hulked out,” Tony said conversationally, still working while he did.
Bruce paused, not sure how to respond to that. It was bound to happen, it wasn’t surprising that it had happened then, but he still felt that familiar sinking feeling in his gut that he’d done something very very wrong.
“What?” was all he managed to get out.
Tony looked up again for a few moments, looking surprised by the response. He shrugged, “It’s no big deal, we all figured it would happen sooner or later and nothing bad happened. Hulk just almost crashed into a building rather than the bad guys- he didn’t, though, the day was saved and all that, I don’t think that many people noticed.”
“That’s good,” Bruce said quietly, although it didn’t feel like it was. It had gottten too close to being very, very, very bad.
He got to work, trying not to think about it too much. If Tony noticed that he was still out of sorts, he didn’t say anything for the rest of the day, although he did pause around 6 to tell Bruce to go get some food and take the rest of the night off.
“I’m really fine to keep working,” Bruce had argued, “I don’t want the work to fall behind because of me.”
Tony just shook his head at this, “Look- you’ve been a huge help, but you’re no good in a lab if you’re sick, so go get some food and relax for the rest of the night. I’ll be fine.”
Bruce had offered up a few more rather weak protests before ultimately agreeing. He shut down what he was working on and handed Tony and left a few pages that he’d been taking notes on on the workbench.
Deciding to take Tony’s advice for once, he found his way to the communal kitchen the Avengers were allowed to use, that he did not use anywhere near as often as he needed. Steve was already in there, and he almost walked out but, unfortunately, not quickly enough.
“Feeling any better?” Steve asked pleasantly, looking up from washing the dishes. Bruce wondered if anyone had pointed out that they had a dishwasher, but he looked happy enough doing them.
“Yeah, thanks,” he said awkwardly, “I’m sorry about what happened earlier…”
“It happens to everyone, don’t worry about it,” he replied in the same tone as before.
Bruce took a few steps into the kitchen, “Do you need any help with that?”
“No, I’m almost done,” he glanced over, “There’s some spaghetti left over from dinner still on the stove if you want it.”
“Oh, thanks.” That at least saved him from having to figure out what to eat. He made himself a bowl of it, noting that the sauce actually looked home made.
Steve finished up about the time that the spaghetti came out of the microwave. He placed the dish towel to dry and looked over at Bruce, “Make sure you take care of yourself from now on, okay?”
“Yeah, I know that we don’t want any incidents.”
“Well, no,” Steve agreed quietly before glancing at Bruce with a bit more concern than the scientist was comfortable with, “But you should still just for your own sake. None of us want to see you hurt.”
Bruce nodded, although he actually wanted to laugh a bit. Turning into the Hulk was the most painful thing he had ever experienced, even on the best of days, it seemed a bit strange for anyone who has to see that most days to not want to see him hurt.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a few moments before Steve started to walk out. He glanced back at Bruce for a moment, opened his mouth and then closed it again before nervously adding, “Clean up after you’re done, alright?”
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
'It's a date.'
It would be a bit more impressive to say that there were some complex magic that meant Loki was aware Bruce had written something back to him. Instead, the answer was something considerably creepier. Loki had figured out how to determine where in SHIELD headquarters, and Tony’s house, the security cameras were and had already had magic to check if a place was empty before he transported himself there.
He had also, whether out of boredom or a more sinister plot, gotten into the habit of wandering the deserted and unmonitored parts of SHIELD, particularly the living quarters. You learned a good amount about people that way, he likely knew quite a few things that no one would want him, or anyone else, to know. The kind of pajamas Director Fury wore, that Coulson actually brought paperwork to bed with him, and a few late night visits showed exactly which Avengers slept in the nude (the magic told him when conscious people were there, he was attempting to work on that). That last fact was a bit of knowledge he could have happily lived without.
Thor was living with Jane away from SHIELD, she didn’t trust them enough to live under their roof, so he rarely had to worry about running into him. Which was a good thing, he did not want to face his brother outside of the battlefield.
No, there was no enchantment on the tea, beyond to keep it warm, or the note that he had left. It was instead a testament to how often he’d found himself there, silently analyzing these windows into peoples’ lives.
Loki was actually rather surprised to find that a note had been left for him. He read it over a few times, not certain what he ought to do now. This had not been part of the plan, and something he had not really anticipated. It had been a bit longer than he’d care to think since someone had actually sought out his company.
Taking the note and not leaving a response was probably the best idea, cause the most confusion and discord, but Loki was not prone to acting on the best ideas, not lately.
It was actually somewhat late when Bruce finally got to his room. Clint had gone into the kitchen while he was still eating and ended up deciding that they would have to have a movie night. In what felt like less than a minute, Clint had managed to gather all of the Avengers, including those who hadn’t even been in the building, in front of the TV they shared.
It was almost disturbingly uneventful, and Bruce managed to ignore the nagging doubt that made him wonder if this was a common occurrence he hadn’t been included in before now. It felt as though they stopped a bit early, based on what he remembered of movie nights from college, and he thought he’d noticed a few concerned looks shot his way when Clint’s asking to put on another film was shot down.
Bruce hadn’t even thought about the notes for a few hours, something that he became almost painfully aware of after he stepped into his room. He wondered if he should regret what he had done, writing back to Loki and inviting the mischeif monger back into his life. Not that Loki had needed an invitation in the first place.
While mulling that over, he noticed that it was a different card leaning against the mug, with a blank side facing him. Anticipation and dread pricked at him as he took the card and flipped it over. In the same fancy calligraphy he had seen before was the simple word ‘Yes’.
Bruce stared at the card for a few moments, feeling somewhat annoyed that it didn’t say anything else, there was no indication of how to arrange this. He supposed that he could just walk outside and hope to bump into him sooner or later, but that didn’t seem like a good idea. Not least because he didn’t want to find out just how closely Loki was stalking him.
Hoping that the card was still an acceptable mode of communication, he picked up a pen and quickly scrawled ‘Saturday afternoon? Provided you don’t have any world domination plans then.’ and placed the card back where it had been, the ‘Yes’ side facing up in case anyone happened to walk into his room and see it. Again, it crossed his mind that he shouldn’t be so flippant about how he’s making plans to meet with his enemy. Again, he ignored it.
There was a sense of relief when Bruce woke up to find the card untouched. The situation was nervewracking enough without the thought that Loki had visited his room while he was asleep in it. The thought was still there, but at least he had no proof.
He went about his day as usual, noting how much better he felt and making an effort to actually get enough to eat during it. Again Tony told him to call it an early night, and today he agreed to it more easily, although if he still felt better tomorrow then he’d actually try to stay later again.
The kitchen was deserted while he got and ate dinner, and he quickly returned to his room, feeling a little too anxious to see if he had gotten a reply. A bit too excited to see that he had. Nervously he turned over the card again, to see what was written in the increasingly familiar handwriting.
‘It’s a date.’
His stomach squirmed as he read it several times, hoping that it might change. That wasn’t an unrealistic hope when dealing with writing from a magic user. He could imagine Loki’s face, that insufferable smirk knowing that Bruce would read too much into a common term of phrase. He glanced at the calendar, it was Thursday. He had asked to meet on Saturday.
Tomorrow was going to be a very interesting day, he decided, picking up his mostly disused MP3 player and flipping through to the most relaxing track he had. He quickly jotted down a response suggesting they meet at 3 pm before settling himself in the lotus position on the floor.
“Plans for the weekend?”
Bruce jumped slightly as the question cut through his thoughts. He glanced up from the chemicals he had been working with, at Tony who was casually leaning against the desk and watching him with his arms crossed, an amused look on his face.
“What?” it was the first thing he thought of, in part because he hadn’t been listening to the point that he wasn’t sure that he had heard him right. It was a fairly odd question, really, when was the last time that he had had ‘plans for the weekend’?
Tony chuckled, “You’ve been glancing at your watch and barely paying attention to your work, acting like I am when Pepper’s trapped me in the office to do paperwork when I’ve got better things to do.”
“Oh. Sorry.” He rubbed his face as if just waking up, not really sure what else to do. His mind had been wandering all day and all night since he’d gotten that note, and as much as he knew that was the intent an uncomfortably hopeful part of him wanted to think otherwise. He gave Tony a smile that he wanted to look reassuring but likely failed at that, “I have something I need to do tomorrow, I guess I’m more nervous about it than I realized.”
Tony’s brow furrowed and he frowned a bit, shifting slightly although his voice remained casual, “Oh yeah? Is it something for SHIELD?”
Bruce smiled again, this time a bit more genuine, before he shook his head, “No, it’s something personal, I don’t really want to get into it too much. One of those things that I’m hoping will go well but may be disastrous.”
Tony nodded, not looking any more relieved to hear that, “Alright, hopefully it will go well, then. If it doesn’t- we won’t have to worry about any property damage, will we? Because I don’t think Coulson needs any more paperwork to deal with.” he offered a strained smile after that, trying to turn the justified concern into a joke.
“I’m not sure,” he answered quietly, and an uncomfortable silence fell. He never could be sure, he’d gotten much better at handling things but there was always that chance. Especially given who he was planning to meet. Bruce managed a smile, “It should be fine, though, don’t worry about it.”
Tony didn’t look like he thought it would be fine, but he nodded anyways and got back to what he had been working on as Bruce did the same.
There had been no plans for where to meet, a thought that only occurred to Bruce as he glared at his wardrobe. He wasn’t sure what to wear, what impression he wanted to leave, and couldn’t help but be annoyed that his wardrobe was fairly limited thanks to his clothes constantly getting destroyed. The thought that he should probably wear something extremely loose just in case Loki did have those plans was present, but the closest he got to vanity won out and he instead went with business-casual. It was what he actually felt most comfortable in.
Of course, what to wear didn’t really establish where he was supposed to go. A glance at his watch, which doubled as a less obvious heart rate monitor, told him that he had an hour to figure things out. More if Loki were prone to being fashionably late, something that he could easily believe but didn’t really want to bank on.
His only real thought was to get away from SHIELD or anywhere that SHIELD or any of the Avengers was likely to see him.
His knowledge of New York and personal preference were what led him to a rather small park in one of the poorer areas of the city. He stood out more than he cared to think, but not nearly as much as one would think because he walked like he was supposed to be there. It felt comfortable and familiar to him. Most of the last few years of his life were spent in places like this, or places far worse off than anyone in the US wanted to imagine possible. Living in modern, well off areas like he was now was actually a bit of culture shock, the last time he had felt like a lifetime ago and in many ways was.
“It’s fascinating the lengths that mortals will go to get privacy,” he heard a disdainful voice behind him about 10 minutes after he had arrived. A glance at his watch would have told him this was right on time, but Bruce didn’t bother checking or even turning around. He instead let himself feel comforted that Loki had, in fact, been able to find him here.
“I like it here, actually,” Bruce said gently, finally turning around and successfully managing not to laugh at Loki’s expression of distaste and the looks he was getting from passersby. He didn’t really expect a pampered prince of Asgard to appreciate a slum, although he knew that it was in everyone’s best interests to suggest they leave before someone attempted to mug the God of Mischief.
Not that he wouldn’t draw it out a bit, he hadn’t brought them to that bad a neighborhood.
Loki stared at him for several moments after hearing about Bruce’s fondness, his expression unreadable. Quietly he muttered, “It isn’t wise to lie to me.”
“I’m not,” Bruce responded, glancing around easily, “I’ve lived in far worse places than this since the incident, it feels more like home than SHIELD headquarters or Stark’s gaudy waste of cash tower.” That wasn’t something he’d expected to say out loud, but every time he saw Tony’s house, his collection of expensive cars, he thought about all the good that money could have done.
Loki surveyed Bruce for a few moments and then looked around the street, memories of Jotunnheim surfacing as his thoughts strayed to the childhood he would have had if not for Odin. He focused his eyes on Bruce’s in an attempt to ignore his surroundings and raised an eyebrow. “What sort of home could this possibly be?”
“A nicer one than most would realize,” he said softly, “but not as nice as the people in it deserve.” Loki did not respond to this, some expressions passed over his face before they were quickly and carefully hidden, but the way his eyes were set onto Bruce’s was becoming unnerving. “We should go, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, I did mostly come here because I am fairly certain no one in SHIELD would be caught dead here.”
Before the sentence was fully out of his mouth, Loki’s arm had shot out and a hand was holding too tightly onto Bruce’s shoulder. As quickly as that had happened, a green flash filled his eyes and his entire body was surrounded by a horrible sensation that passed too quickly to described. His watch started beeping its warning that his heartrate was getting too high as he wobbled, trying to get his bearings as he became acutely and uncomfortably aware that he was no longer in the same place he had been.
The hand on his shoulder softened its hold and helped steady him, an infuriatingly smug and amused smile on Loki’s lips.
“What was that?” he gasped, breathing deeply as he pushed a button to silence the alarm, using his fingers to keep track of his pulse as it slowed.
“I believe you call it ‘teleportation’, it’s a favored sorcery of mine,” he said loftily, his hand in place.
“I’m fine,” he mumbled, shoving the hand off, but he was not fine. Part of him couldn’t help but feel that this was a punishment for dragging Loki to somewhere he had been so uncomfortable with. He would worry about that later, though, and instead he looked around, trying to figure out where they were, it was actually vaguely familiar, one of the more upscale parts of New York. Tony had brought them all to a restaurant here after they’d first met. Bruce still wasn’t sure if it was for bonding or so Tony could show off. He wasn’t even sure that Tony knew the difference.
Bruce straightened up, starting to get his bearings and smiled nervously. “I can’t help but feel that this is payback.” It was more of a statement than something he expected a response to.
“It isn’t customary on Earth to take a date out to a nice resturaunt?” Loki looked too amused, which could have meant a number of things.
Bruce struggled to stop looking like a dear in the headlights at that, his brain trying to formulate a response that was neither hopeful nor distrusting. He managed a weak smile, “Not at 3 in the afternoon.”
This was met with pursed lips for a moment, “You should have picked a better time, then.”
“I felt like sticking with something neutral was safest,” he replied uncertainly.
Loki raised an eyebrow at him, “Do you really expect there to be anything safe about what you’re doing?”
“No, but I would like to think there could be.”
A look passed over Loki’s face that Bruce wasn’t sure how to read, an unpleasantly common theme to his expressions. He quickly motioned towards Bruce to follow him and they quickly walked into a Japanese resturaunt where the host gave Bruce’s outfit a disdainful look before seating them.
“Interesting choice,” Bruce commented after they were seated, “I would have thought you’d prefer something Scandinavian.”
Loki smirked, “I’m afraid that we would have to actually go to Northern Europe to find a place that meets my standards and I thought it better to keep your first experience of magical travel be within city lines.”
“I appreciate that, if only because I don’t want to get caught in another country illegally,” he agreed, shaking his head bitterly, “I’d rather not find out what SHIELD would do to me if it’s all the same to you.”
“Yes, I’d hate to think what a nasty slap on the wrist that might be,” Loki scoffed in response, taking a sip of water. Bruce’s lips thinned slightly, but he said nothing. It was enough to cause Loki to place his glass down and raise an eyebrow, “You don’t expect me to believe that their dream team is actually held to such strict standards.”
“Their dream team- certainly not,” he replied with a cold smile, “I’m just their weapon. Too powerful to let fall into the wrong hands, too dangerous to let off the leash.” Perhaps not to everyone, but he’d heard enough comments from people, particularly the higher ups and occasionally even his teammates, to know how he was generally regarded.
This brought a frown from the deity, “Why, exactly, do you work with them, then?”
Bruce shrugged, suddenly finding his chopsticks very interesting, “Lesser of two evils, I suppose.” He glanced up at Loki, considering what he had said, “Well, three evils.”
“Do you truly think I would have use for you?” Loki asked at the addition, an amused smile on his lips.
Bruce chuckled, “No, I know you would.” He went on, ignoring Loki’s annoyed expression, “However, I meant that crime, or villainy, was one of the options I could have turned to.”
“Hm,” was the noncommittal reply, “And the third evil?”
His face darkened slightly and shook his head, “Another part of the government has been hunting me for some time- that’s all I’ll say.”
Loki raised an eyebrow, an intrigued look on his face quickly covered up before Bruce could notice it. They ate in silence for a few moments before he casually commenting, “You don’t sound terribly trusting of your government.”
“I suppose a prince would have a hard time understanding that,” he replied coolly.
Loki’s eyes flashed, “Perhaps not so hard a time as you would think.”
“I trust you more than my government, at least your attacks are honest,” he said, deciding it was not a good idea to press what that had meant. Bruce shook his head, “Truthfully, I’m disappointed that you did not try to take over the world by running for office, it would have been more succesful.”
Loki smirked, “You think so?”
“I suspect you don’t know much about mortal history if you have to ask,” Bruce replied with a smile, trying not to feel so comfortable.
“Perhaps not,” he mused, before leaning forward, his elbows on the table and head resting on laced fingers while he watched Bruce carefully, “Tell me something. What will you do if they knew you were speaking with me now, like this?”
Bruce had automatically jerked back when Loki had moved so close, and the answer came from his mouth before he had a chance to think, “Run.” His brain briefly wondered if this would be a sitcom-esque situation, that the entirety of SHIELD had walked in then. Nervously he glanced around- they had not. The restaurant was actually quite deserted, past lunchtime but not yet dinner.
Loki leaned back in his chair, and Bruce finally relaxed again, although he remained on edge.
“You’re taking a great risk,” Loki said quietly. It was not a question.
Bruce raised an eyebrow, “You thought I wasn’t?”
“We should go,” he muttered, standing up and placing folded bills on the table, pulling Bruce to follow before he had the chance to work out how much he’d left.
Once outside, Bruce suddenly realized that he was alone. There had been no smoke this time, no sound, Loki had again disappeared. He made his way back to SHIELD, surprised and concerned to realize how close they had been, as his mind reeled.
This one has Thor in it
He decided to take the full weekend off for the first time since arriving, not wanting to be around Tony in case he decided to start asking about what Bruce had done. Instead, he managed to track down Thor. This was actually a bit of a feat, the God did not carry a phone and was rarely at SHIELD compared to the other Avengers. He managed to on Sunday afternoon, finding Jane’s phone number and making plans through her.
They met at a park at Thor’s suggestion, on a too nice day when the park was quite crowded. No one recognized them- it was hard to recognize Bruce, and the thought of the Mighty Thor wearing a Nyan Cat shirt (a joke gift from Tony that Thor had liked) was likely too much for most people to make the connection. Thor still drew plenty of attention, of course, but people mostly just gave them a wide berth, so Bruce just ignored the stares.
“A fine day!” Thor announced when they met up, gesturing around him with a broad smile. They exchanged pleasantries, catching up on non-Avengers matters (which mostly meant Thor talking, as Bruce had no non-Avengers matters in his life), before finally running out of small talk. Thor’s face grew a bit more concerned, “Why did you wish to talk?”
“I should have mentioned that,” he said gently, mostly at himself in annoyance. This was likely to be a sore subject. He smiled gently at Thor, whose brow was now furrowed deeply in a serious expression that was not often seen off the battlefield, “I was wondering if you would be willing to tell me anything about your brother, I should have mentioned that when I asked you to meet with me.”
“I had not been expecting that,” he replied, looking startled. His face fell slightly and he sighed, “It is not a pleasant subject for me. It really depends on what you wish to know.”
“I’m sorry if you’ve told the others this before, I know I’m a bit out of the loop,” he said with a nervous laugh, trying to buy time as he tried to think of how best to word this.
“They know nothing which you do not,” he replied grimly, shaking his head, “I have not made any attempts to discuss it, I avoid the topic.”
“Have you spoken to him at all recently? I know that Clint had a, er, run-in with him,” he asked quietly, not sure what to say.
Thor’s jaw tightened at the mention of what happened with Clint and he took a long moment before speaking. “I have not spoken to my brother since—” he stopped, he didn’t want to talk about what had happened in Asgard, how he spent months thinking Loki was dead and only found out otherwise when he had ended up at war with his little brother. “I have not spoken to him for a very long time, I would not know how to find him and he has not sought me out.”
“Oh,” he said awkwardly, not sure what else to say. He was rather sure mentioning that he’d had a late lunch with him the other day wouldn’t help Thor feel any better. “Do you know what happened? Why he became like this?”
Thor shrugged and stared into the distance, considering for a brief moment that they should be having this conversation in a bar, somewhere with strong alcohol. He would have said so, but knew it was not a good environment for someone like Bruce. He sighed, “I have asked myself that many times, and still have no answer. I was not as attentive to my brother as I should have been, I was always happy and assumed he must be as well. The times that he told me everything was fine, I believed him.” He smiled wryly, “Darcy has since explained to me that was a mistake.”
Thor watched some of the people in the park for a few moments, his gaze lingering on families with children as he thought about his childhood and wondered what he could have done differently. It was something he had found himself wondering over very often lately, what he could have done to prevent this. He felt that he had failed his brother, but still did not know how.
Thor sighed again, “I wish I could give you a better answer, but I can not. I know what a benefit it would be to the team, they might be able to understand him better.”
“I’m sorry,” Bruce said quietly and awkwardly, feeling inadequate, “This must be difficult for you- being on the team, having to fight your own brother.”
“It is,” he agreed, trying to offer a smile to Bruce but not quite managing it. He sighed heavily and looked to the heavens, “My brother is doing unspeakable things, and I have no way of speaking with him. I can not just sit by, I wish I could stop him alone instead of putting others at risk. I would give anything to not have to, though, to be able to fix this.” He glanced back at Bruce, almost hopeful that his reported genius could come up with a solution, “But I do not know how to.”
Bruce just nodded, looking away. “I feel a bit selfish right now, I’ve been spending so long feeling sorry for myself instead of thinking about what the others on the team had to deal with,” he said it softly, mostly to himself.
“You can’t have been that selfish to call me here to ask about this,” Thor pointed out, clapping him on the back and slightly misjudging how hard it was, Bruce didn’t comment on it though.
“Didn’t you call to find out something about my brother for the team?”he asked with a smile.
Bruce chuckled nervously, “No, not really.” He stared off into the distance, answering before Thor could ask, “I want to know more about him because I’ve been feeling uncomfortably connected with him, I guess he reminds me of myself in some ways.”
Thor nodded slowly, “You also see yourself as a monster, the way others see him.”
“Somewhat,” he said quietly, “I can’t deny that being painted as the villain, knowing that if he’s caught he’ll be put in the cage they made to hold me, doesn’t make it easier to sympathize with him. He also seems to be very intelligent, even if the thought of “magic” still bothers me. I can—” he quickly caught himself “I feel that I could talk to him better than anyone on the team.”
“I see,” he said gravely, “I must admit that a part of me is relieved. He is still my baby brother, and the thought that someone would want to understand him despite what he’s done makes me somewhat glad. But you should not focus too much on the similarities. I may not know much about you, but I know that you have put a great deal of work and have given up more than many could imagine to try to keep people safe.”
“Thank you,” Bruce said gently, smiling uncertainly at him, “It can be difficult to think that doing that matters.”
They fell into a mostly comfortable silence for some time before Thor stood up, “I’m afraid I must leave. I hope that I have helped you somewhat.”
“You did, thank you,” Bruce replied, standing up as well and paused awkwardly, offering his hand to shake. Thor chuckled and took it firmly, clapping Bruce on the shoulder while he did.
This one's a bit shorter than I wanted. I really can't work out where to go from here and wanted to post this because it's been so long since I updated.
Bruce did not have a good night, his mind kept spiralling, unsure what to think. He knew Loki as his enemy- the man who wished to enslave mankind, but couldn't forget the fondness that Thor spoke of his brother with, and agonizingly went over every moment of interaction he'd had with the trickster. He awoke Monday morning not wanting to go into the lab, but feeling he'd taken enough of a risk by taking the weekend off.
When he stumbled into the lab, a bit later than he'd meant to, he found Tony already there. His teammate glanced over and ended up staring, his brows furrowed. Before Tony could say anything, though, the speaker in the lab went off alerting them that the Avengers were being called to Assemble. At the mention that it was an attack by Loki, Bruce felt an uncomfortable panic.
“You're staying,” Tony told him firmly, as soon as the message ended. Bruce opened his mouth to protest, but Tony had grabbed a syringe, “No- you're in no condition to be fighting or turning into the jolly green giant- if you try to come, I'll sedate you.”
“Why do you even have that?” Bruce asked nervously, although that was a ridiculous question. Of course Tony had something on hand to stop Bruce in case he was about to Hulk out. It did put Tony's attempts to push him over the edge in an annoying other light.
Tony shook his head, grabbing the Mark V suit, “Pepper likes keeping them on hand to threaten me with sleep.” He hastened to the door and then paused, “Go back to your room and rest, that's an order, I'll tell Cap that you're too sick to go, he'll support me.”
It was not hard to find a news station doing live coverage of the fight, the harder part was deciding which one was best, and so Bruce sat in his room, sipping the tea Loki had given him and tried to ignore the fear growing in his stomach.
Gradually he was coming to realize that he didn't know what would happen if he was to fight against Loki now- someone who'd shown him kindness without being required to by a government organization. In the back of his mind, where the Hulk always lurked and he could tell what his alter ego was feeling if he really had to, he knew that the Hulk only ever wanted to be alone. Hulk got on better with their teammates, who seemed better able to trust the monster than the coiled potential in scrawny Bruce Banner, was glad to be doing good, but ultimately wanted to be alone.
Watching the footage of the fight, there was some desire to protect his teammates. Bruce could feel the Hulk raging at him, seething at Bruce's weakness, when Iron Man barely saved Hawkeye from a fall that usually the Hulk would easily have caught him from. But through most of the fight, especially when the camera caught a glimpse of Loki, the Hulk just felt the desire to run away.
It was a familiar one, the first feeling that the Hulk had ever really felt after getting over the shock of being ripped into existence from a small, weak body. He had never wanted this, people shooting at him and being chased like a rabid beast. Hulk had only gone along with being one of the Avengers after the promise of being let free often, to no longer be hunted by the government and to have a chance to genuinely help people- maybe even be a hero. Bruce still remembers Fury unflinchingly facing the giant monster and negotiating terms as best as they could. They had to be alone, or at least convince the Hulk and Bruce that there were no snipers around to take them down, and no armor could protect a human from Hulk's might. Fury had been the only person besides Betty to be willing to do this, and was the only thing that convinced them both to stay and help.
Lonely, tense months where the only times they could find to let Hulk loose were in fights, however, had bred plenty of doubts. And now they were questioning if their enemy was truly evil, if they deserved or even wanted to be heroes.
It was entirely possible, Bruce thought, that the next time they went to fight Loki, the Hulk would simply turn and run to the nearest forest or cave instead of fight. At best, SHIELD would track them down and Bruce would be in lock down until they regained trust. At worst, SHIELD would give them over to the army and General Ross. That was a terrifying thought.
He sat, glued to the coverage flashing on his laptop and quietly nursing the tea that was not nearly strong enough to counter the growing anxieties. There was no good way to turn- if he refused to fight with the Avengers, his position at SHIELD would be at risk. There was no convincing argument for why he couldn't fight but was still safe enough to help in the lab. If he fought, there was the risk that Hulk would run- putting them both in danger, and the thought of being on the run from the government, again, was less than appealing. He doubted he would get as nice a welcome next time. And seeing as last time he was tricked somewhere and surrounded by at least 100 men with guns, that wasn't a very pleasant thought.
Bruce curled up in a blanket, watching as the fight ended, just wanting to be left alone and wondering what was going to happen.
“I think this is the first time none of us had to go to medbay after a mission,” Clint mused once they were all in the debriefing room. A few of them would be making a trip there, himself included, afterwards to clean up a few wounds, but there was nothing severe enough to justify missing this meeting.
The rest of the team looked rather somber at that point, taking it just as a reminder of
“Are you sure Bruce isn't?” Steve pointed out, “If he's that sick, he probably should be seeing a doctor.”
“I doubt he went, I told him to go back to his room to get rest- it's probably just a bug,” Tony said with a shrug. Even if it was a bit more serious, he imagined that Bruce would prefer to suffer through it than get treated by SHIELD's medical personel. Given his own avoidance of doctors, Tony could hardly blame him for that. Actually, no one in the Avengers seemed terribly fond of doctors. Clint still wasn't quite used to having such ready access to advanced medical care, Thor didn't trust “mortal” doctors, Natasha didn't say one way or another and Steve still got nervous when he had to get a shot.
“Someone should check up on him,” Natasha pointed out, glancing at Tony.
Tony raised his eyebrow, “Why look at me when you say that? You really think I'm the right choice to take care of someone who's sick?”
“None of us are, but you know him best,” she replied.
“I will tend to him,” Thor said, earning a surprised glance from pretty much the entire team. “I remember enough from when my mother tended me the few times I was ill, I should be able to. Is it customary for mortals to drink soup while ill as well?”
“Yeah, chicken noodle's a favorite,” Tony said, running a hand through his hair as his brain tried to process this thought.
“It would be safest for Thor to do this,” Clint suggested quietly. Tony shot him a dirty look and the others shifted uncomfortably, thinking the same thing.
“We'll get the soup delivered, though, no offense big guy- but I don't trust you to try cooking after that time you tried building a fire pit for spit-roasting in my kitchen,” Tony pointed out. The bigger problem wasn't the hole in his kitchen floor that went ot the lab, but the broken pipe and damaged wires. Still in his suit, JARVIS had already pulled up the information for the best and closest resturaunt to order from.
Thor chuckled at the memory, nodding, “That is probably for the best.”
Tony waited at the doorway to SHIELD for the food to arrive, an order which had ended up including more than the largest container of soup they had on hand but also food for everyone else. The others found themselves sitting around the living room the Avengers shared, waiting for word from Thor about how Bruce was doing. This mostly involved Clint attempting to make jokes about what Bruce must be like sick, which Steve would quickly cut down as being insensitive while Natasha gave a sympathetic smile. She knew it was just how he dealt with things, that he didn't mean anything by it.
When Thor walked into Bruce's room, the jolt of surprise was almost enough to cause him to Hulk out. He was still watching news on his computer, now watching the aftermath, SHIELD always sent people to handle PR and, of course, they got as manyinterviews with victims as possible. People were also speculating on why the Hulk had been absent, something that had been hard to ignore. SHIELD's people refused to comment much on it, but they'd somehow managed to get General Ross to do an interview stating that it was clear the Hulk was more than they could control. The media was having a field day speculating and fear mongering, they never were comfortable with the Hulk as a hero.
After watching this, his nerves already thinned, he half-expected someone to come in and tell him that they wouldn't be needing him as an Avenger anymore and escort him to the “Hulk tank” they'd made. So when Thor walked in unnanounced, he nearly lept out of his skin, slamming the laptop screen down automatically.
“Oh, Thor,” that actually did nothing to assuage his fears, the demigod was the only one on the team who could control the Hulk without getting badly hurt. He gripped the blanket around him a bit tighter and tried to smile, “What brings you here?”
“Tony informed us that you were ill,” he said, feeling a bit guilty about scaring Bruce so. He hadn't wanted to knock in case Bruce were sleeping, but clearly walking in like that was the wrong thing to do. Thor smiled warmly at him, “I wanted to see if you needed anything. Tony has ordered you soup, I believe that chicken noodle is traditional when sick.”
“Oh,” he said blankly, staring at Thor for a few moments. He suddenly felt very, very silly and a bit guilty for thinking that Thor had been there to lock him up. Bruce relaxed into his blankets and leaned back against the headboard, biting his lip. “Thank you, but I don't think I'm really sick. It's just stress.”
Thor frowned at that, looking him over, “You don't look very well.” Getting sick from stress was not a common problem in Asgard.
Bruce chuckled slightly, “ Thanks . You're right though, I've been feeling terrible over this. I'm sorry to have worried you.”
“What troubles you to make you this ill?” he asked, sitting down on the bed and looking over Bruce.
In that moment, Bruce realized that Thor was likely the only Avenger that he could talk to about this. And also the last one he wanted to, Loki was causing Thor enough heartache without adding this to it.
“I'm... I don't know if I should tell you,” he offered instead, looking down. Thor leaned over and placed a hand on his shoulder, more gently than Bruce thought such a strong man could manage, but didn't press him. Bruce glanced up at him for a moment before biting his lip again, “It's about your brother, and I don't want to upset you.”
The hand on his shoulder and Thor's jaw tensed at that, but he forced himself to relax, the effort involved in doing so visible on his face. Again he offered just the gentle smile, “I do appreciate your concern, but if this is my brother's doing then I need to know. I will do what I can to help. Did he approach you as he did Clint?”
“Not... not exactly.” Bruce shifted nervously, “He well, he stole my tea and when I went to the store to buy more he started talking to me.” It sounded ridiculous when he said it. “Then I met with him again the other day.” He smiled awkwardly at Thor, “He made me tea.”
Thor stared at him for a moment, then placed a hand to his forehead. It did not feel warm, although he was not sure if it worked the same for mortals. “Perhaps I should call the others, they would know how to tell if you're feverish.”
“I'm not,” he said, gently pushing the hand away, “I don't know if it's a plot, or if he's being sincere, but I actually liked talking to him.”
“He can be a wonderful conversational companion,” Thor agreed, “But even I can no longer tell when he is manipulating you with his words and when he is speaking from his heart.” He sighed and glanced at the wall, “I sometimes wonder if he knows the difference anymore.”
“Sometimes, when I said something that surprised him, I thought that I could trust what he said,” Bruce said quietly, “Sometimes I'd say things that I hadn't meant to tell anyone, even though I know he's the last person I should be talking to.”
“He may be turning you against us, you are a very powerful ally,” Thor said gently, looking up at Bruce almost pleadingly.
Bruce looked down, “He didn't have much work to be able to. I don't trust SHIELD, when you walked in I honestly thought they'd sent someone to lock me up for missing a mission.”
“They will have to go through the Avengers if they wish to,” Thor said firmly. Bruce glanced up at him nervously. “I know that Tony and I have more loyalty to our team than we ever will to SHIELD, and I believe the others do as well. If anyone wishes to lock you up, unless you truly deserve it, they shall feel the wrath of Thor.”
“Thank you,” he said quietly, smiling as he felt a burden lift from his chest. He knew that he would still worry about it, but having someone say it without any real prompting was a great relief.
Before Thor got a chance to say anything, the door opened again and Bruce wondered if he should get better at locking it. Tony walked in, still in his Iron Man suit, just with his helmet off. He grinned at Bruce, “You should've seen the look on the delivery guy's face when he saw me in this.”
“You stayed in the suit just for that?” he asked, rolling his eyes but smiling.
“Why not?” Tony held up a take-out bowl of soup, “The rest of the team is still sitting on the couch waiting to hear how you are- they might pile in here soon if you don't come out. Might be better to eat this out there.”
Bruce smiled and laughed slightly, shifting to stand up while keeping the blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He took the bowl from Tony's hand and poked his head out too look at the common area.
I saw the Avengers before writing this and parts of it definitely inspired what happens. I don't think it qualifies as a spoiler, but I'm putting this warning here just in case.
Every rational synapse in his brain insisted that he should now stop caring about what Loki was up to. He felt better about his team, they weren't avoiding him as much any more, he actually got invited to some of their bonding sessions. He still didn't trust SHIELD farther than he, as Bruce, could throw it, but knowing he at least had Thor on his side if they tried anything was comforting.
He was doing better physically as well, which was partly because Tony had taken to making sure he ate properly and didn't stay up too late, and he returned the favor by insisting that if he had to then so did Tony. After two weeks of that, Pepper called him and offered to put him on payroll at a ridiculously high salary if he would just keep doing what she and JARVIS had been trying to do for years.
They still fought as a team, and Hulk was all too happy to help his teammates as best he could. After each battle, Thor got into the habit of regaling Bruce with tales of how Hulk had saved the day and remind him how much the team appreciated and needed both of them. This was unnecessary, as Bruce was still present, in a way, during their fights, but still appreciated the gesture.
They didn't actually fight Loki for a few weeks, which of course set everyone else on edge. Bruce stayed quiet whenever conversation turned towards that, Loki was still a point of confusion for him. His thoughts still wandered back to Loki, to the time they had spent together, wishing he could know why and know for certain. Even if Loki had just been trying to tear him away from the Avengers, just been lying and saying whatever it took, he wanted to know. And he still couldn't get rid of the horrible little hope that there had been something more honest there.
Not that he could ever really know, it seemed that Loki had manipulation down to such an art that it was no longer second nature but his natural way of being. On top of that, he had no way of getting in touch with Loki and the demigod showed no signs of getting back in touch with him.
After a few weeks like this, Loki struck again and the Avengers were again called to battle. This time Bruce had no excuse not to go, although he was a bit nervous about what would happen. It was a bit hard to battle someone who you just wanted to pull to the side for a nice chat.
Of course, Bruce wasn't the one who would be fighting.
It would probably come as a surprise to no one that the Hulk wasn't a big fan of conflicting emotions. They meant headaches and that Bruce was more annoying during fights than usual. Hulk just wanted to defend his teammates, have a bit of fun as himself instead of being trapped inside a weak body, and being called a hero didn't exactly feel bad. Which meant that Bruce's hesitations about fighting were a source of deep annoyance for Hulk, and since he could hardly take it out on Bruce- the anger got directed at the real source.
Generally, in fights, Hulk just did as much damage as he could while acting as a living shield when needed, particularly with Hawkeye. The archer did best when he could get to a strategic point and shoot- Hulk was able to ensure that bad guys stayed away and catch him if he started plummeting to Earth. Hawkeye needed neither, but they were helpful. Hulk and Loki had not gotten close enough to interact prior, there was an unspoken rule that they let Thor deal with his own brother whenever possible and Hulk had never had a reason to break it.
This time was different.
The moment they got there, Bruce felt Hulk start grabbing for control. Rather than waiting on the sidelines for an opportune moment, he sprinted out of the aircraft that had transported the non-flying Avengers just in time to avoid breaking it. His teammates were too shocked to really respond, and just watched to see if something had gone wrong. Hawkeye drew a tranquilizer-tipped arrow that had been designed to stop the Hulk just in case, but didn't load it.
Hulk made a beeline for Loki, brushing through enemies as if they were branches that had started growing too far over a sidewalk. Anyone who wasn't in his path stood and watched, in part because it happened too quickly for them to really do anything about.
Loki had a strange expression on his face, as if he weren't certain whether to be angry, amused, or afraid. He took a step forward as the monster approached, the conflicting emotions coming together in a light smile, “I take it you missed m-”
The comment was cut off by a large fist colliding with his face. Thor rushed over, not wanting to see his brother murdered, which caused the other Avengers to realize that there were, in fact, other bad guys and they got on with the fighting. The fight was interspersed with conversation over the headsets about what the hell just happened.
Thor wasn't able to pull Hulk off before he rendered Loki unconscious. He brought Loki into SHIELD headquarters as planned if he were ever captured, and placed him in the Hulk Tank. SHIELD had been alerted, and there was a cot from med bay sitting there waiting for him. After laying his brother on it, Thor covered him with his cape as a blankets. Thor was allowed to bring in a healer from Asgard to tend his wounds. Rather, he demanded to be allowed to and no one dared argue.
The others stayed back while Bruce turned back to himself. He didn't fall unconscious this time, he was getting better at that, but he also didn't say anything as Tony and Steve helped him back to the aircraft, Tony and Clint joking about what happened, teasing and congratulating in an attempt to get Bruce to say something. It didn't work, and they spent most of the ride back to SHIELD in an uncomfortable silence. Nobody mentioned where Thor was bringing Loki, it probably wasn't the best time to bring it up.
“I actually need your help on something urgent in the lab,” Tony said rather suddenly as they touched down, breaking the silence and drawing confused looks. Bruce glanced up, which was the most he'd acknowledged anyone. Tony's lip twitched up slightly before he continued, “I know you're supposed to let the doctors make sure they're comfortable that you won't go killing everyone, but you haven't yet and I think getting this worked out is a bit more important than letting you get a few hours rest.”
“I don't know if that's the best—” Steve started, but a look from the entire team made him realize what was going on and he nodded, “I'll bring you some clothes that fit.”
“Thank you,” Bruce muttered as they started down the corridor towards their lab, ignoring the looks he got for only wearing a notably oversized pair of jeans that he was clutching nervously.
Tony smirked, “I have no idea what you're talking about.”
Steve got to the lab very soon after they did, with clothes. Bruce changed into them quickly, not even bothering to ask his teammates to turn around- he was more than a bit used to people seeing him naked. Steve turned bright red and pretended to read some chart on the opposite wall, Tony just raised his eyebrows and went back to checking that the experiments they'd set up were still running smoothly. They were.
“Is anything wrong? After what happened today...” Steve started, not sure how to handle this situation, “Is there anything that I can do?”
“Just, please keep me up to date on Loki's condition,” Bruce said with a small smile as he finished buttoning his shirt.
“I should check up on that anyways, I know Thor's still with him, though,” Steve nodded, and started towards the door. “I'll make sure you know what's going on.”
After he left, Bruce looked over at Tony, “Was there anything you actually wanted my help with?”
Tony glanced at him then shook his head, “You just looked like you could use an actual break, rather than having to sit there with a sniper trained at your head while a machine counted down the radiation levels in your system. I'm fine with calling it a day and going out for a bite.”
“It might be better if I stayed in,” Bruce started, before trailing off and mumbling something or other about tea. Tony rolled his eyes and nodded, placing a hand on Bruce's shoulder and using it to gently guide him out of the lab and SHIELD and to his car. Although he doesn't stop muttering reasons why he should probably stay, he does absolutely nothing to resist.
One nice thing about Tony Stark is that he doesn't ask questions unless he needs to, not when it comes to emotions. This is probably because he doesn't want anyone asking him about his own, but it's still a relief. It meant that Bruce could unwind and process what had happened without having to worry about explaining why it had happened.
Halfway through the meal, which was just burgers because Tony had by then figured out that Bruce did not appreciate the ritzy places, Tony's phone went off with a call from Steve. Ever true to his word, he was calling to let them know that Loki had woken up and was apparently doing fine.
“He said Thor wants to talk to you,” Tony added as he put the phone down, sounding more serious than he was usually capable of. The conversation had been brief, Steve had called the second Loki woke up and had work to do now, and Bruce had stared intently at the phone, able to make out most of the conversation.
“Oh,” Bruce replied, looking down at the half-finished veggie burger that Tony had teased him for ordering. “We should head back.”
“They'll be too busy getting everything sorted, we've got enough time to finish this at least- no rush,” Tony said casually, leaning back in his seat to try to illustrate how unrushed they were, his eyes intently watching Bruce to figure out what the right move is.
Bruce nodded slowly, half trying to convince himself, “I doubt either of them want to see me right now.” Tony's eyebrow quirked upwards slightly, wondering who the 'either' referred to, but he didn't say anything, instead distracting Bruce with a conversation about an upgrade he was working on for his suit.
Thor stayed by Loki's side until the healer convinced him that Loki was fine. The demigod then alternated between storming off, raging outside while the city got pummeled with the worst storm anyone could remembered, then returning and fretting outside the cage he had placed his brother in, waiting to hear news but not bearing to see Loki's face.
Bruce and Tony, luckily, got back during one of his moments of waiting worriedly outside. From the weather, Tony was half-tempted to suit up in case he had to break up a fight. Instead, the second Thor saw them he drew them into a rather uncomfortably emotional hug and insisted that he was glad to see them.
“You wanted to talk to me?” Bruce asked quietly, refusing to look through the windows of the corridor. He didn't like that the Hulk Tank existed, he really didn't want to see anyone in it, least of all Loki. There was also a very large part of him that was afraid of what he'd see.
Thor nodded heavily, “It is not an urgent matter, though, we can speak on it another time.”
“If you're up for it, I'd like to talk now,” he said, his fists tightening slightly as he hoped that he could actually go through with it. He managed a nervous smile and gestured down the hall, “Come on, we can go grab some crappy coffee from the break room. They'll be able to find you, and it can't be a good idea to sit out here worrying yourself.”
Thor glanced through the window sadly, “Part of me wishes to be in there, by his side to comfort him in this time of need.” He turned away, his brows furrowed and jaw clenched, “But I cannot forgive all that my brother has done now, and don't trust myself to be in the same room as him.”
Bruce nodded, “We'll get you that coffee, then, it might help.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Tony asked, feeling uncomfortably unwanted.
Bruce just gave him a nervous smile, “Probably better if you didn't, I'm sorry.”
“I'd offer to let you punch me, but I think the other guy would punch you back,” Bruce said with a nervous smile as he started working the coffee maker, “And, well, that'd be a lot of mess to clean up.”
Thor didn't smile, he simply stood in the doorway grimly. They fell into silence for a few moments before Thor looked at him, “You speak as if, when you become that monster, you become a different person.”
“I do,” he said with a shrug, “It's complicated. Neither of us likes the other, neither of us likes being called by his name, but I know that I have to live with the consequences of what he does.”
“Then what you did to Loki...” he trailed off, uncertain how to put the words.
Bruce looked down, “It wasn't...” he stopped, “I don't black out, I'm still mostly aware, but it's like watching the world through a thick screen- it's hard to make out details. I didn't know what was happening until it was too late. I can't... I couldn't stop him.” It wasn't an excuse, it wasn't enough, it didn't undo any of the damage.
“I believe I am starting to understand,” Thor said quietly, “Your situation is very unique, Doctor Banner, it must be very difficult.”
Bruce nodded jerkily, “How is he?”
Thor didn't answer, instead looking over Bruce as if sizing him up. “Do you know why the... other guy did this?”
“It's not hard to figure out, it is my fault,” he said with a sigh, still refusing to meet Thor's eyes. “I've... I've still been feeling very conflicted about Loki, I didn't really want to fight against him today. Hulk, he doesn't like Loki- just sees him as the villain. I wanted to stop him from protecting and fighting with his teammates because of Loki, he didn't like that.” He gave a strange, forced smile, the kind that often came when he had to talk about the Hulk, “Get rid of Loki, get rid of the problem.”
Thor clenched his fists then folded his arms in front of his chest as if to stop himself from using them. Instinctively, Bruce took a step back. They sat in silence like that, Thor glaring at the floor with a gaze that threatened to melt the linoleum and Bruce frantically trying to keep himself calm (something he had gotten uncomfortably talented at).
“I'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again,” Bruce said quietly, not willing to say anything more definite than that, “I'm sorry.”
“I am not the one you have to apologize to,” he said bitterly, his face softening. This only meant that his expression went from murderous to stony. Thor shook his head, “I should return, I wish to be there in case they have need of me.” Without waiting for a response, he left the room. Bruce didn't follow.
Thor made a good point, one that had been sitting at the peripheral of Bruce's mind. It was hard to bring himself to acknowledge that he should apologize. Normally it was the first thing on his mind, trying to make amends. This time, the thought of apologizing to someone who might see it as a weak point and use it to control him was a bit harder to bring himself to do. Admittedly, the dislike Hulk felt slipped into his mind just a bit, and made it hard to do. Generally that wasn't the case, the times that he'd wanted to apologize the other guy felt some remorse as well. Hulk didn't really want to hurt people, not usually, he wasn't sadistic or vicious the way the papers portayed him, just wanted to be left alone. This time was different.
The bigger problem, of course, was in explaining his actions to SHIELD. Which is where his lab buddy came in.
“Now, I admit that I'm always up for a good old fashioned hacking,” Tony said, working the computers in their lab, “But I still can't quite work out the reason for it right now.”
Bruce shrugged, not wanting to explain too much. Tony had long since been tapped into SHIELD's system, he used this to keep track of what they were doing but now he was using it to tamper with their security cameras over the Hulk Tank. Bruce probably could have worked out how to do this himself, but he was incredibly rusty with up-to-date technology and Tony would make the job far easier.
“He didn't deserve that,” he said quietly, hoping that would be enough.
Tony snorted at that, shaking his head as he continued. A few minutes later he turned the screen over to show Bruce, “Alright, I've fed in a loop from before, they won't notice but you should keep it short and sweet just in case,” he raises an eyebrow, uncharacteristically grim, “You really want to take this risk? For him?”
“What're they gonna do? Throw me in with him?” Bruce pointed out with a smirk, leaving the room before he had to see Tony's response.
The most difficult part was, really, walking into that room. It had been over a week since they'd captured Loki, Thor's presence kept him safe from testing but there was discussion about what to do. Thor wanted to bring Loki home, the US government wanted to put him on trial for war crimes, the UN wanted it to be their job, more than a few people were asking if they could have him as a lab rat (Thor swore that if a Prince of Asgard were to receive such treatment, Midgard would find itself at war). Fury was looking for the best way to get Loki to Asgard before things got too nasty.
Through all the chaos, Tony and a few of the others had gotten dragged to distract the press and everyone else had their own part to play. No one in the press really cared about the man behind the Hulk, and they didn't want Hulk around at this point. Which left Bruce in the lab most of the time, catching up on the scientific journals he'd missed and thinking about what to do.
He spent a lot of that week trying not to think about that room, his nightmares started getting worse.
Standing in front of the door, it took a bit more strength to open it then he cared to admit. The door opened by itself at one point, and he quickly realized that Tony was likely watching him from the security cameras. He then realized that he was staring at his worst nightmare.
Loki was there, too.
They stared at each other for a few moments. Rather, Loki stared at Bruce and Bruce stared through and around him, at the cage that had been built to hold him. He stared at the walls, wondering what they were made of, if it would actually hold the Hulk, what tests they used to determine it would be good enough, how long they'd had it ready.
“Well, isn't this a surprise?” Loki finally broke the silence, and Bruce noticed him for the first time. His smile cold and dangerous. Thor had managed to convince them to let Loki stay wearing his own clothes, his hair was kempt as always and he looked almost the same as he ever did. The healer had done magnificent work, but there were some almost-healed gashes visible on his face. “Finally decide to finish the job?”
He walked inside stiffly, trying to keep his attention on Loki but his eyes kept flitting to the tank as if it would come alive and gobble him up. He stopped a foot away from the wall closest to him, and looked at Loki's eyes, trying to decipher if what he saw was real or put on.
“I'm sorry,” he said gently, “I didn't want that to happen-” his voice dropped into a whisper, “not to you.”
Loki's eyes widened slightly, his expression getting wilder. “Sorry?” he spat through a sardonic laugh, “Yes, it's funny how things happen when we don't want them to.” Loki leaned as close to the class as he could, holding Bruce's gaze, “What did you not want to happen, exactly? Did you not want your hands to crush me, to grab and throw someone about like a rag doll,” he leaned back again and smirked, “Or are you just sorry I survived?”
“This isn't an excuse,” Bruce said quietly, his face stony as his stomach churned, “I don't expect it to make things better, but those were not my hands,” he slammed a palm against the glass, trying to ignore the part of his mind that wanted to know if this would actually hold him or not. He was aware that he was shaking and didn't want to think about what his face must look like, “This is my hand- I have never raised it in violence against anyone, and I've given up more than you can imagine to try to spare the world from his.”
“You can't erase that you become that monster,” Loki snarled back, “Even if he's only your basest desires, you still wanted,” his voice caught a bit, “you wanted that to happen.”
They fell silent for a few moments, Loki looking every bit like a cornered animal, watching Bruce carefully, muscles tensed to respond. The scientist took a few moments to calm himself, hoping that he was reading the situation correctly, wondering if this was all yet another act, wondering if it even mattered at this point.
He sighed, sliding his hand down the glass slightly until it was at shoulder level as he watched Loki. He dropped his head, not knowing what else to say, knowing he had no way to convince him. “I really didn't.”
“Of course not,” Loki scoffed, the cold smile back in place, and Bruce moved his head up just enough that he could see the demigod. Loki backed away, looking like he was about to laugh and scream, “Of course not- the entire world, my own dear brother and father wish harm on me yet you, you who have now actually done what they've all wanted, are the one who does not wish me harm.”
“That's why it happened,” Bruce said gently, standing up and taking a few steps back. He smiled sadly and looked at some part of the wall behind Loki, “Because I almost stopped him from protecting his team when it meant fighting against you.”
“You're lying,” Loki hissed, his eyes narrowed, “Don't lie to me.”
Before Bruce could say anything, he felt the phone that Tony had demanded he carry go off, a glance at the screen told him that he was about to have company. He sighed deeply and placed a gentle hand on the glass, “I'm sorry.” He walked out quickly after that, leaving the seething demigod as he rushed back to the lab.
SHIELD had done a very good job of hiding their security cameras. Loki knew they were there, but not seeing them meant he could pretend they weren't. Pretend he was alone after that little visit. If he was alone, he could let himself wrap his arms around himself and punch the walls and scream without caring that he was losing his cool in front of his captors. By some miracle, no one stopped by or even really walked past, or if they did he didn't notice, for at least an hour. It was enough time for him to regain his composure.
His first visitor afterwards was Thor. Their visits had been tense from the start. Thor would try to fix things, and Loki would get angry that he waited until now. Thor would get angry about what Loki had done, and Loki would refuse to show any sort of regret.
“I was starting to think I'd been forgotten,” Loki commented, struggling to keep up his cool face.
Thor's jaw tightened slightly, “As long as you are in there, you are not considered a threat, they have more important things to do than babysit my errant brother.”
“We are not brothers, Thor, I have told you this,” Loki spat, turning around so Thor would not see his face and trying to keep from trembling.
“I will always consider you my brother, Loki, we grew up as brothers and shared our childhood. That is deeper than blood can ever be,” Thor told him with a sigh. They had been over this numerous times, but he was willing to say it as many times as it took. Loki didn't respond, but Thor waited some time just in case. “That is not why I came- I have brought something for you.”
“Oh, lovely, a pity gift from the delusional man who refuses to accept my true parentage,” Loki responded, not looking at Thor.
Thor tensed his fist then relaxed it, his brother had always had a way of getting under his skin. “It is not from me, it is from Doctor Banner.”
Loki's eyes widened and he resisted the urge to spin around- demand why, and what, scream at his foolish adopted brother for contributing to yet another charade in his life. Instead he turned around slowly, as casually as he could manage. “Oh?” He was too stiff, he knew it, he knew Thor would pick up on it.
Thor placed an object in the drawer they had designed to pass food and other things into and out of the cell, pushing it through. Loki walked over nervously, picking up a metallic thermos. He wanted to make a wry comment about being impressed they trusted him with something like this, but then he noticed the card attached.
'Green tea, I thought you could use it.'
Loki stared at the card and then looked up in utter confusion, hoping for an answer from Thor. The demigod had already left, though, leaving Loki alone to work out what to do with this.
Bruce had practically ran back to the lab after he got the text from Tony. He walked in flushed, a bit out of breath, and deciding there was no point in pretending like nothing had happened.
“Hey,” he said, pretending to be as casual as possible while gasping for breath, “Thanks again for all of that.”
“No problem, big guy,” Tony replied, glancing him over with a slight smirk before walking over and crossing his arms, “I've got some quick questions, though.”
“You watched, right?”
“It was for your sake- if Loki decided to attack you, I didn't want to have to wait for the alarms to go off to start suiting up.”
Bruce smiled, “I'm glad you don't think that cage can hold him, either.”
“I keep waiting to wake up to find out he disappeared, but I guess he wants to avoid another beating like the last one,” Tony replied with a shrug. Bruce winced and, rather than give him a chance to start berating himself Tony went on with his questions, “So- is what you said down there true?”
“It's wired for sound?” Tony just raised an eyebrow at him and Bruce looked down, “Yes, it was.”
“So even if you go turncoat, the jolly green giant'll still have our backs?” Tony asked, crossing his arms and frowning.
Bruce glowered, “I won't. If I was going to do anything- I'd run, not become a proper villain.”
“Will you?” Tony was too serious, it didn't suit him.
“I don't know,” he answered, not wanting to make a promise he can't keep, “Since SHIELD found me I've had an escape plan stuck into my back pocket.” He looked away, “Well before I even heard of Loki.”
Tony made a move, as if Bruce were about to leave right then and there and he had to stop him, but quickly caught himself and leaned back on the counter again. “Fair enough,” he said with a shrug, “I've probably done worse, I can't really fault you here.”
Bruce watched him for a few moments, an eyebrow raised in disbelief. After awhile he shrugged and chuckled slightly, “I may have to ask Pepper about just how much worse you've done.”
“She'd tell you, probably a bit too happily,” he replied with a smirk, “But I do have the excuse of being drunk at the time.”
Bruce rolled his eyes then frowned thoughtfully, “Do you know if anyone's worked out a way to get ahold of Thor yet?”
They stay late in the lab again, and somehow it feels like old times. It's a nice thought, having 'old times' that bring fond nostalgia rather than regret and self-loathing. Eventually it gets late enough and Tony finally makes his way off to the gaudy tower he's built for himself while Bruce heads back to his room, feeling better than he had in a very long time.
He opens the door, already starting to unbutton his shirt while he prepares to throw himself onto the bed and finally get to sleep. He realizes just how lowered his guard is when he hears someone clear their throat as he starts working to remove his pants.
Bruce jerked up at that, clutching his shirt closed and feeling self-conscious about being in a state of undress for the first time in years. It really shouldn't come as any surprise to see Loki sitting on his beg with one leg crossed over the other, for some reason in plain clothes rather than his usual Asgardian getup, and yet he still feels shocked.
“I was going to see how long it took you to notice I was here,” he explained, an eyebrow raised in amusement.
Bruce nodded nervously, “I, um, thank you for changing your mind before I took my pants off.”
“Nothing the entire world hasn't seen before.”
“Well, in that case, I might as well just strip down,” he chuckled, releasing his hold on his shirt and letting it fall open.
Loki pursed his lips and brushed an invisible bit of dust off of the knee of his pants, “Thank you for the tea.”
“You said you liked it.”
The demigod looked up at him curiously, “I did, didn't I?” He stood up, clasping his hands behind his back and looking around the room, “Why go to this trouble?”
“Because you didn't deserve that, and it's my fault that it happened to you,” he said quietly.
Loki smirked, “I didn't deserve a lot of things, yet you're the only one who's tried to make amends. And at such risk, too, don't think I'm unaware of why that cage they thought could hold me was built, I saw your face when you walked into that room. Why take that risk?”
Bruce snorted, “I doubt it can hold me any better than it could hold you.”
“You'd lose everything.”
“I've lost everything over less.”
They fell silent for a few moments, Loki started pacing and Bruce decided to rebutton his shirt just to have something to do with himself. Eventually Loki stopped mid-step and spun on him, face accusing, “What do you want from me?”
“I don't really want anything,” he said, smiling sadly.
“Then enlighten me.” Loki was practically snarling, his brow furrowed, Bruce wasn't sure if he was imagining a threatening green aura around him but it was certainly possible.
“There are some things that I think might be nice if you wanted them as well, but it's not really important. And I would like to see you happy, but I don't know if that can happen,” he said, sitting down on the bed and running a hand through his hair. “People don't have to want something from you to be nice to you,” he smiled, “I learned that the hard way.”
The snarl and aura die and Loki stares at him blankly, “I've killed people.”
“So have I.” They all had, every one of the Avengers, and they each had their own ways of dealing with it but none could say they hadn't.
Loki's brow furrowed and he took a step back, “You said that the monster wasn't you.”
Bruce stood up slowly, lightly placing his hands on Loki's shoulders, “He's not, he's probably killed more than you have- but I've killed some, too. Most were by accident, because I didn't have the right tools or because I wasn't careful enough. But one was because the bastard deserved it and nothing will ever make me feel remorse.” Bruce took his hands back and hugged himself, “There are days when I can't help but think that makes me worse than the other guy could ever be.”
There wasn't a lot to say to that, so Loki didn't say anything. Instead he nervously placed a hand that he hoped was comforting on Bruce's shoulder and offered a half smile.
“Why did you talk to me that day? You stole my tea just to get me away from SHIELD- why?” It was Bruce's turn to feel inadequate, and he suddenly felt all too vulnerable because Loki was known for his lies and the answer to this meant more to him than he wanted it to.
“You looked lonely,” he answered, and the hand on Bruce's shoulder started properly resting there, rather than barely skimming the fabric. “You don't any more.”
Bruce looked at him, brows furrowed as his brain started working something out, “No- the team started actually making me feel welcome... after I spoke with you.”
Loki smiled coyly. “Really?” he purred, “Isn't that something.”
Bruce just stared at him for a few moments, a smile tugging at the corners of his lip. The reality of the situation crashed into him at about that time, ruining the moment, “They'll have realized you're gone by now...”
“I left a double of myself there- no one will know the difference,” he rolled his eyes, “My brother is still falling for it, believe me when I say your little agents will as well.”
“That isn't a permanent solution.”
“No, but it gives me a bit of freedom now.”
Bruce nodded and they just stood there for a few moments. “Why do you keep trying to take over the world?”
Loki frowned, “Isn't that what villains are supposed to do?”
“I thought people were considered villains because they wanted to take over the world, not the other way around,” he smiled when he said it, although he couldn't help but feel bad.
“Well, I was considered a villain first and decided to embrace it,” he replied with a shrug, trying to look casual about the whole thing.
“You don't have to.”
“Yes,” he smirked, “I'm sure your government will be leaping to pardon me now if I turn over a new leaf.”
“We could figure something out.”
Loki watched him for a moment, eyes soft and sad and he sighed gently, “You shouldn't be so willing to give up your life for me.”
“You're the only reason I know that I even have anything to give up,” he pointed out.
“Not really,” Loki points out gently, disappearing in a puff of smoke and leaving Bruce alone with his thoughts.
Negotiations for what to do with Loki were still going on, although most of the Avengers weren't involved in them. They had no reason to be. Thor was, of course, Steve felt he had a duty to be there as well, but no one else really knew what was going on. Bruce assumed that they'd eventually come to their senses and send Loki to Asgard, and didn't want to think about it beyond that. He couldn't think of a particularly compelling reason for why he should be included, anyways.
Thor would talk to him, sometimes, say that he worried for his brother, that he was tempted to break his brother out of that mortal cage and take him home. Of course, Thor knew that doing this would be a great risk. It might even be seen as an act of war on Earth, and Thor wanted to avoid a war as much as he wanted to save his brother. Bruce mostly just listened at these times, not having better suggestions.
Then came the day that Bruce happened to be walking down the wrong hallway as the meeting got out. It was mostly people he didn't personally know but recognized as diplomats and representatives. Then General Ross stepped out and Buce felt his heart start racing. The General saw him, too, and made a loud comment to Fury about needing to keep his dogs leashed. Bruce turned and walked the other way, walking a bit too quickly, trying to drown out memories of gunfire and explosions and being hunted with reasons why letting the Hulk out to play tennis with Ross's skull was a bad idea. None were coming, but he managed to get back to the lab without any problems.
He managed to gasp out "Ross" and Tony's face filled with understanding. Even before he'd read everyone's files, before he'd met and gotten to know Bruce, Tony had seen the news footage and knew about the circumstances leading to the Hulk's creation. Tony hit a few buttons to bring screens down over the windows and then let Bruce sit in one of the corners, shaking, until he was told what else to do. Tony had had enough of these episodes after Afghanistan to know he still had no idea what to do when they happened beyond riding them out.
(He'd also drown them out with alcohol, but he knew by now Bruce didn't drink. He'd rather not find out this was enough to make him start.)
That afternoon, Tony, Bruce and Steve were sitting in a private room of a nice restaurant and Steve was suddenly aware that this was going to be an interrogation rather than a nice meal. Which was something of a relief because, knowing Tony, he'd expected this to be buttering up to get Steve to agree to a threesome.
"What the hell is Ross doing in those meetings?" Tony demanded because Bruce still wasn't feeling well enough to do it himself.
Steve looked between them in confusion, "He represents the army. They want Loki to help them develop protections for soldiers.”
Bruce laughed, cold and hollow, "They're still using that line?" Steve stared at him uncertainly. "That's what they said when I started working for them, they're the reason I am what I am," he explained quietly, his face dark as he stared fixedly at the glass of water in front of him, "They managed to keep a hold of me for a few days before I could escape- Let them get their hands on Loki, the second Thor finds out what they do to him there'll be an intergalactic war on your hands."
"That's what Fury said as well," Steve said, "I wasn't sure what he meant."The man sighed and took a drink of his water, picking it up from next to the wine that Tony had insisted on buying him even though he said he didn't want it. "I guess the army's changed a bit while I was asleep."
"It was probably always like this, you're just now seeing it," Bruce pointed out a bit too bitterly.
Steve looked at him sadly, "You're probably right."
"It looks like he won't get his way though, right?" Tony interrupted.
Steve looked down and shook his head, "Ross has got the president behind him on this, and he can be very convincing. He's pointing out the attacks have only been on American soil so far, so the other nations have got a hard time arguing that they should have him. No one is going to let Thor take his brother back to Asgard because there are no treaties, and SHIELD is on thin ice... Fury went behind a few peoples' backs to put the Avengers together."
"I'm telling him to leave," Bruce said with a nod, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Tony shook his head and Steve stared at him with wide eyes.
"You're going to break him out, are you crazy?" Steve asked, his voice barely a whisper even though there was no chance of them being overheard.
"No, I'm telling him to leave, he already has once, that cage can't hold him."
Tony raised an eyebrow at that admission. "We'll talk to Thor first, arrange for him to take Loki to Asgard."
"I don't know if I can convince him to go along with it," Bruce said nervously, looking at his hands.
"You should know something," Steve said uncomfortably, "Ross has made some comments about you, saying the army wants you back. If Loki disappears, they might focus on you."
"I won't let that happen," Tony insisted.
"I'm not trading my safety for someone else's, and they can always come after me after they get Loki," Bruce sighed. Steve smiled slightly at him, looking a bit proud of Bruce, not the Hulk, for the first time. Bruce quickly returned the smile before continuing, "There's not a lot you could do, Tony, they could storm SHIELD and take me by force while you're on a business trip."
"They couldn't storm my tower, though."
Bruce raised an eyebrow and Tony smirked, "It's about time you took me up on that offer to show you my labs. JARVIS has all the data we've collected back up- everything we've done. It'll be fun."
A few hours later, all of the Avengers were in Stark Tower. Thor was there because it was his brother, Tony because it was his tower, Steve insisted he be allowed to join and by then there was no reason not to let Clint and Natasha come along, too. Natasha already knew about it, which came as no surprise, and so the two were leaning casually on Tony's car as they left SHEILD. They apparently agreed that, compared to Ross starting intergalactic war, releasing Loki was the lesser of two evils. Tony and Bruce had gone back to SHIELD HQ just long enough for Bruce to ask Loki to meet them in the tower, and to please leave a double again. They had seen no sign of the master assassins until getting back to the parking lot. Bruce found it a bit unnerving, Tony just told Clint not to hurt the paint job.
Bruce ended up pacing alone in a room, trying to process the developments of the day as the others discussed the plan elsewhere. It was a bit much.
"You realize that you're being watched, right?" Loki asked quietly, materializing not far from where Bruce was pacing and looking around uncomfortably.
"It's probably just JARVIS," he replied, stopping and smiling nervously at him.
"Who?" his eyes narrowed.
"That would be me, sir," the AI replied from a speaker in the wall, "I have access to every part of Stark Tower, and I can assure you that no one else will be privvy to this conversation. There's no cause for alarm, master...?"
"I don't have a last name," Loki spat, eyeing the panel on the wall suspiciusly. Bruce briefly wondered if Loki had ever seen a talking computer, much less an AI before. Thor certainly hadn't the first time he met JARVIS. Loki glared at Bruce, "Is it safe?"
"I have seen far worse from master Stark, I assure you," JARVIS replied, "If there's anything you need, do not hesitate to ask."
"It's safe, don't worry," Bruce said gently, smiling, “JARVIS- have you told Tony about Loki's arrival?”
“Master Stark is currently entertaining his guests, I did not feel it was prudent to announce the situation to all of them.”
“Thank you,” he replied with a sigh, “If you get a moment to speak with him alone...”
“Of course, Dr. Banner.”
"What's going on?" Loki asked, watching Bruce warily.
"Do you know about the negotiations going on to decide your fate?" Loki scowled, that was answer enough. "Do you know who General Ross is?"
"Insufferable man," he replied casually, "I've sat in on some of their meetings, he's unbearably self important and has a ridiculous obsession with the word 'monster'."
"That's him," Bruce said. He licked his lips nervously, "I've... Dealt with him before. He managed to catch me once, locked me up and--" he squeezed his eyes shut, "I don't want to find out what he'll do to you."
"You think I should be scared of a mere mortal?" Loki scoffed.
"Hulk is," Bruce replied harshly, "You saw what Hulk did to you and Ross still scares him. He can find your weaknesses.”
There was a moment of silence, Loki regarding Bruce for a moment. “Do you think he will certainly be able to, or are you just afraid that he might?”
“I... if he does, it's too great a risk to hope he won't.” Bruce refused to look at the demigod.
“I understand,” he said with a soft smile, “What do you want me to do?”
Bruce finally looked up at him, “I'm sorry, I know this isn't what you want. Is there any chance you'd be willing to return to Asgard with Thor?”
Loki tensed up at that, smile and softness gone, “You do not know what you are asking.”
“No, I don't, I'm sorry,” he looked down, because he realized then that he really doesn't know enough about things from Loki's perspective. He had heard everything from Thor, from the others, and by now he should have known well enough that other people don't always know what's best. “I don't want you staying in that cage, and I...” he looked back at Loki's face, stared at the cold green eyes that were watching him suspiciously, “I don't want to have to hunt you again, I don't know what Hulk will do and I can't stop him.”
Loki glanced at him for a moment and then stared out the window, over the city, “You would give up everything for me if I asked you to right now. You don't even know me.”
“I might run even if you don't ask me to,” he commented with a wry smile, shuddering involuntarily, “It's taking more willpower than I'd care to admit not to. If Tony hadn't offered to protect me from Ross- I would have asked him to pass you a note and been out of the country by now.”
“I'm glad you have people around you who will protect you.”
“Thor would protect you.”
“Thor-” he wanted to snap out something angry and scathing, but his voice cracked instead, “doesn't know how to. No one does.”
Bruce looked away, “I'm sorry.”
“Dr. Banner- forgive the interruption but Master Stark and his guests would like to see you,” there was a pause, “they are still not aware of your guest's presence, although I believe Master Stark has his suspicions.”
“Keep it that way,” Loki snapped.
“Do you want me to stay here?” Bruce asked.
“I don't need you to stay here and coddle me, I'm not a child,” Loki replied, crossing his arms and glaring at some skyscraper visible from Tony's tower.
“I know, but it can be nice to have someone around,” he said nervously, “It might be helpful to work out what you want to do before I go in there. I don't know if you're even willing to see them and I won't force you to.”
“Who is out there?”
“JARVIS?” Bruce called, “Can you answer that?”
“Certainly, sir. Mr. Stark is in the lounge accompanied by Miss Potts and the other members of your team. There is discussion of whether or not to include Director Fury in this situation.”
“My brother is there?” Loki asked quietly, still staring out the window.
“If you mean master Odinson,” the AI replied, “yes, he is.”
Bruce had been standing near Loki, not close enough to touch, but near. On hearing that, Loki grabbed Bruce's wrist but otherwise made no signs of moving. Bruce glanced down at the hand and then at Loki, but said nothing.
“I shall inform master Stark and his guests that you are currently indisposed,” JARVIS announced, “You should be aware that master Stark may decide to see what is going on for himself. I will advise him to come on his own, though.”
The grip on Bruce's wrist tightened, “He's the one in the armor... Iron Man, correct?”
“Yes,” Bruce said gently, “He hacked into SHIELD's security-” JARVIS made a sound that resembled someone clearing their throat, “Sorry, he and JARVIS hacked into SHIELD's security so that I could visit you.”
“I don't know if I'll want to see him.”
“No one's forcing you to, I can go into the hallway to meet him if you'd like,” Bruce offered quietly.
Loki frowned at him, “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“I admit, I'm still trying to work that one out,” Tony put in as he walked in, nodding to the demigod, “Loki- glad to see you in such good condition after those nasty bruises our buddy gave you.”
Loki pressed his lips together into a thin line before raising his eyebrow, “It was also nice to see how well you were able to rebuild your tower. I'm sure the city was disappointed that you didn't just decide to condemn it.”
Tony crossed his arms and watched him for a moment then smirked, “Well then, let's do this thing.”
It was possible that Tony Stark could grow to get along with Loki, as world dominating megalomaniacs go. Right now, Tony's personality wasn't a great thing to have around a volatile demigod. Neither of them knew what would set Loki off. Bruce didn't know how to avoid destruction when it was someone else who'd be the cause. As such, his main plan was in getting Tony out of the room, fast.
“I just want to point out that this slumber party I've invited you to was not open invite,” Tony pointed out to Bruce, keeping his eyes trained on Loki.
Loki glanced around, “Yes, because I am positively leaping to live in this... residence you have.”
“I admit, it's not as nice as your current accomodations in terms of being built to kill you, but I'm sure JARVIS could whip something up if you're that set on it.”
Bruce shifted his weight uneasily at that, the two men were staring each other down and this could end fairly poorly. Loki casually curled his lips into a smirk, which on him could very easily be a sign of murderous intent. Nothing happened, though, so Bruce relaxed and started realizing that he was acting just like Steve had when the Avengers had first come together. This brought a new appreciation for the Captain, the realization that there may have been a bit more concern for Bruce in those actions than he'd first thought, although Loki had proven himself considerably more likely to attack than Bruce had been.
“I take it that the suggestion to hitch a ride back to Asgard with Thor has been vetoed,” Tony said, “Which of course makes this situation all the more fun.”
“Unfortunately, I do not make it a priority to make your life easier,” Loki replied simply.
“Too few do, it's very sad,” Tony agreed, “Then what is the plan, exactly? Do you expect us to just let you walk away free?”
“I would be amused to see your attempts to stop me.”
“I wouldn't,” Bruce muttered, not to anyone else in the room, but to the growl he felt in the back of his mind where the other guy lurked. It sounded smug, and that thought scared him.
Loki placed a hand on Bruce's arm very briefly, a light touch before jerking his arm back and pretending nothing happened. He regarded Tony for a moment, “What would you like me to do?”
“Going back with Thor was the best thought. Staying here will make things difficult,” Tony replied with a shrug.
Loki's face darkened and he looked down. A thought came to Bruce's mind, “I remember Erik mentioned something about 9 worlds... Earth and Asgard are just two of them. Is there nowhere else you could go?”
“Erik?” Tony asked, raising an eyebrow at Bruce.
“Doctor Selvig, another scientist, we knew each other befoe... well, before,” Bruce replied with a shrug, “He grew up being told the story of that mythology, we talked about it a few times.”
“I believe my brother has met him,” Loki murmured, “But your suggestion, no, there is nowhere else that would accept me. Several of the realms are realms of the dead- only the dead may go there. The rest would not look kindly on the bastard son of...” He shook his head, “There is nowhere else for me. I would rather go with your army general than anywhere else.”
Tony and Bruce shared a look at that. “Did you not explain just how bad this guy is?” Tony asked him, “Pointed out how this would start a war with Asgard if Thor found out, all that?”
Loki laughed harshly, “Please, my brother would not care what happened to me.”
“And my tower has apparently become the set for an episode of Dr. Phil, great,” Tony grumbled, “JARVIS, keep an eye on these two I'll go and discuss this development with the others.”
“Make it clear that I do not wish to see my brother,” Loki said sharply.
Tony snorted, “Believe me, he gets that.” He leaned over to Bruce and muttered quietly into his ear, “You know, if we get those two into a couples counseling session that may solve our problems. Just a thought”
There was a short pause as Tony left the room, neither spoke until the sounds of his footsteps faded down the hallway. Loki looked down, “I heard what he said.”
“He probably meant you to,” Bruce replied with a lop-sided smile that faded quickly, “Is there a reason why you won't try speaking with Thor? He might not know how to do right by you, but he does care about you.”
Loki shifted, rubbing his arm, “Our childhood... there are many things that Thor will have to accept to be able to help me, that I don't think he will ever understand. And I do not wish to try.”
“Mm,” Bruce commented with a sigh. He ran a hand through his hair, “When I was running from Ross, I just ran to the most run down, out of the way place I could. But I doubt that's an option for you. I saw your face on our... uh... “date”, in that one part of town, that wouldn't work for you.”
“I suppose I have become accustomed to the finer things,” Loki agreed with a sad smile.
“If I may interrupt?” JARVIS asked quietly, “Master Odinson has spent the entire conversation defending you from the others and expressed only a desire for your happiness and safety. A discussion with him may be more beneficial than you believe, sir.”
“Who... who is that, exactly?” Loki snapped, glaring at the screen, “Do you just sit in your control room all day and pass judgement? What makes you think you have any right to tell me what I should and should not do?”
“Actually, sir, I am an Artificial Intelligence integrated into every room of this tower, among other things,” he replied testily, “I have access to all of the studies that have ever been done on interpersonal relationships as well as expressions of emotion. I am more than qualified to advise on such matters.”
“It would be nice if you did. Thor's talked to me about you a few times... he sounds like he wants to make things right, he just doesn't know how,” Bruce added.
“If this was your intention in bringing me here-” Loki warned.
Bruce smiled, “No, I just thought it was a better idea to get your input rather than make the decision on where you should go for you.”
“What a revolutionary thought,” he muttered before sighing. “I suppose that speaking with Thor would make this easier, do you expect him to become my babysitter while I'm here?”
“If you could come to an agreement, you could at least pretend he is for our sakes,” Bruce pointed out, risking a glance at JARVIS, “As long as you don't try any more villainy, it might be enough.”
“So I'm supposed to just play nice from now on and hope for the best? Do you really think that will work?” he glared at Bruce, then his gaze softened, “Did it work for you?”
He shrugged and smiled uncertainly, “I was able to find people who are willing to give me a chance, willing to accept my kindness and return it despite what I am. And that's a lot better than I could have dreamed.”
“And you think I'll be able to do that? Find people here, on this planet of people who don't even want to think I exist, who will be kind to me? Even though my own family--” he stopped himself and shook his head, “How can you think that's possible?”
“If it was possible for me-- no, if it was possible for Hulk, and it has been, I think they accept him more than they do me, then I can believe anyone can.” Bruce bit his lip, “Also, I've seen what you can do- you could do so much good for so many people, if you wanted. People thought you were a God once- they may again, if you put your mind to it.”
“No, they thought my brother and father and mother were Gods- they just thought of me as a monster,” Loki corrected quietly, although his corners of his lips were turned up ever so slightly.
“Well, you can correct them,” Bruce suggested with a smile.
Loki pulled at the cuff of his jacket sleeve and nodded, his lips pursed again. He turned back to the window, away from Bruce. “Please tell Thor that I am willing to speak with him.”
“Of course,” his smile widened slightly, “I can stay with you while he's here, if you'd like.” Loki just nodded and continued staring out the window as Bruce turned to leave.
“Bruce?” he called, turning to look towards the doorway that Bruce was stepping through, “Please don't tell him that I call him my brother.”
It was, all things considered, a very good thing that the Avengers were already a team and used to spending time together. If they weren't, the waiting would likely have gotten unbearable a long time ago. Instead, they knew each other well enough that the wait was actually rather comfortable and when Bruce walked into the room Thor was in the middle of regaling them with a glorious tale of battle in which his brother had aided him. Bruce entered the room quietly, no one noticing him until Thor finished the story.
“Hey, Thor, could you come talk for a minute?” he asked, prompting looks of shock from everyone.
“Didn't see you there, when did you get in?” Clint called, looking somewhat impressed.
Bruce shrugged, “Just a minute or two ago, it's no big deal.” He was used to being invisible, even if Clint wasn't used to being snuck up on.
“You wish to speak with me?” Thor asked. He had stood up and crossed the room by then, a look of concern on his face.
“Follow me,” Bruce replied.
Thor did, and Bruce closed the door to the lounge behind him although he was fairly certain that the others would be trying to listen. Bruce motioned for Thor to keep following him, and he walked a ways before speaking. “Your broth-- Loki is already here.”
“I assumed as such when you did not come back with Tony after he went looking for you,” Thor said, his face stony.
“He's refusing to go to Asgard,” Thor's face fell slightly at that, “But he's willing to try speaking with you.”
“I have tried speaking with him, it never ends well,” he sighed heavily and shook his head, “I fear there may be no hope for my brother and I.”
“I... I can try and mediate, if you'd like, he's at least willing to pretend to have a civil conversation with me,” Bruce offered.
Thor smiled slightly, “That's better than I have gotten from him since I was first exiled.”
“Do you want to go in alone at first? I'll be right outside if either of you need me.”
“No, it would be best for you to be with us from the start,” Thor said, his smile fading, “I still do not know how to speak with my brother, I do not dare hope that his agreeing to try will change very much.”
No one really expected the conversation to be a pleasant one. Of course, there was supposed to be a conversation occuring. Instead, there were a solid 5 minutes of silence, the tension in the room growing to unbearable levels, before anyone spoke.
“Perhaps Master Loki would like to share why he does not wish to return to Asgard?” JARVIS put in, sounding incredibly bored. Looking at the glare that formed on Loki's face, Bruce couldn't help but think that JARVIS wouldn't have asked that if he were at any personal risk.
“That is none of your business,” Loki snapped.
“It is mine, though,” Thor said, his voice smaller than one would think possible from a man his size. For the past few minutes his hands had been tensing and untensing, fidgeting and generally looking as if he wanted nothing more than to be grasping Mjollnir at that point. He had left it in the room with the others, which really was for the best. Loki's eyes narrowed further at that thought, and he opened his mouth to reply.
“I'd like to know, too, if that's alright,” Bruce interrupted, shrinking into himself slightly as he did.
Loki paused and sighed, “If I must...” He tugged at the sleeve of his jacket, “It is not my home, it never was. I do not belong there, and there are too many painful memories in the halls of Asgard. As I said, I would rather go with your general than return.”
Thor turned to Bruce, “I still do not quite understand what would be so bad about that. Could you explain it to me?”
“He would most likely try to work out how Loki has all those powers so that he could give them to humans,” Bruce said quietly, “If he can, he'll make Loki into a guinea pig at best, although he may decide that autopsy is the best solution.”
“A guinea pig? I do not understand, I thought that mortals did not have transformation magic. And what is 'autopsy'?”
Loki scoffed at that comment and Bruce fidgeted before elaborating, “It's just a phrase we use. It means someone that a scientist performs tests on. And an autopsy is when you cut someone open... after they're dead.”
“They mean to kill me?” Loki gasped, frowning and glaring down, “I thought they might try to force me to help them in battle...” He looked at Bruce for a moment, “Would he really kill me?”
“I don't know,” Bruce said, shaking his head, “But he has no sympathy for monsters.”
Thor's hand jutted out and Bruce jerked back, although Thor had only moved to point a finger at him, the tip a few inches from his nose, “Doctor Banner- no one may call my brother a monster- not even you.”
“Put that down,” Loki snarled, shoving the hand out of the way, “You don't know what you're talking about, Thor.”
“But, Loki, he just said...” Thor offered weakly, letting his arm fall to his side.
“He spoke the truth, Thor, one that you refuse to accept, I am a monster,” Loki hissed, his skin turning blue, displaying his Jotunn heritage to emphasise his point, “And people will treat me as such. There is nothing you can do to stop that.”
Thor stared at him for a moment, eyes wide and brows furrowed, Loki ignored him and instead glared at his hands. Bruce resisted the urge to touch his skin, knowing that was not the appropriate response, “What am I missing here?”
Loki's head jerked up from his hands and for a brief moment his eyes were full of fear. He closed them and pursed his lips, regaining his composure as the blue again disappeared from view, “I suppose you may as well know. I am the bastard son of Laufey, King of Jotunnheim, who abandoned me during the war and then I was stolen from my home by Odin.”
“Our father saved you!” Thor objected.
“Your father stole me, covered my heritage, and brought me up to hate the very thing that I am,” Loki snarled, shaking. He took a step back and shook his head, “You spent our childhood telling me that you wanted nothing than to kill my race, Thor, you have no right to try and bring me back into your world.”
“I... I was a child, I did not know--”
“You were supposed to be crowned as King of Asgard, Thor, you were no longer a child then,” Loki pointed out, wrapping his arms around himself, “And... and I was always behind you as well, always supported your desire...”
“I had no idea,” Thor said sadly.
“No one did,” he snapped, although his face quickly softened, “But we do now. I can't go back.”
“Could you go to Jotunnheim?” Bruce asked nervously, not sure if it would be wise to ask what race that made Loki.
“He tried to destroy it,” Thor explained, looking away.
Loki pursed his lips and raised an eyebrow, “It was a very bad day...” He shook his head, “No, even before then I was not welcome. I was abandoned by my father there, that is why Odin took me.” Loki bit his lip, his eyes widening slightly, “I actually killed my own father... that day.”
“Sometimes they deserve it,” Bruce pointed out, placing a hand on his arm.
“This is not a matter to make jest of,” Thor warned.
“Right,” Bruce snorted before turning to Loki, “What do you want?”
He ran a slender hand through his hair, “I do not know what options I've left for myself, I've burnt every bridge possible.”
“You did not burn your bridge with me, Loki,” Thor murmured, “I wish to fix the mistakes I have made- especially the ones with you. We were raised together, I will always love you as my brother.”
“Bruce... he suggested that it might be alright if I stay in this realm under your care,” Loki offered.
“I do not know how many shall accept that, the mortal governments have gotten involved and,” he spared an apologetic glance at Bruce, “they do not seem to be the most... rational men.”
“They aren't,” Bruce agreed.
Loki shook his head, “Of course, that would be the constant amongst all worlds.” He frowned, “What would happen if I simply disappeared?”
“They may assume Thor's at fault,” Bruce warned, “You'd have to make a show of breaking out, let SHIELD try to stop you, Thor- you might have to fight against him a bit.”
“I will speak with Director Fury first, see if there is any chance of reaching an agreement,” Thor said firmly, shaking his head. He paused for a moment and turned to Loki, “If that is what you wish.”
Loki stared at him for a moment before nodding slightly, “That would be fine, thank you.”
“I shall tell the others,” Thor said, bowing deeply, he paused halfway up and looked at his brother, “I will see you again, Loki?”
“Yes, I believe so,” he replied, his lips curving up slightly. Thor smiled at him and straightened up, walking out the door.
“I should probably go with him,” Bruce suggested. The only response he got was slender fingers grabbing the fabric of his sleeve.
Thor strode back into the room, was notably the opposite of when Bruce had. His footsteps could be heard from the moment he stepped out of the elevator, and he opened the door heavily. All conversation in the room had already stopped by then, and all eyes were on him as he walked in, shoulders slumped.
“Well?” Natasha prompted, raising an eyebrow.
Clint sat up, “Yeah, this is a lot more boring than I thought it'd be.”
“You invited yourself,” Tony pointed out, rolling his eyes.
“Because I expected something more exciting.”
Natasha sighed, “Admittedly, I was expecting something more to happen.”
“My brother has never been fond of crowds,” Thor said gravely, “It would not be wise for all of us to confront him at once.”
“So you have been speaking with Loki? He's here?” Steve asked, shifting slightly.
“Since when?” Natasha asked sharply, her eyes narrowing.
Tony shrugged, “About the time we got here, I think.”
“And he's been alone and that's okay with you?” Clint demanded, fist clenching around the bow he had insisted on bringing.
“I guarantee that he has been supervised the entire time,” JARVIS pointed out, and Tony smirked at Clint.
“I don't know if... JARVIS... is really enough supervision,” Steve pointed out nervously, glancing around the room for the source of the sound. He had met JARVIS some time ago, but was still getting used to the thought of a smart computer. Or any sort of computer. He had a hard enough time managing his smart phone.
“Bruce is with him,” Tony explained, “Even if Loki tries something, don't forget that Hulk was the one who dragged Loki in the first time.”
Natasha frowned, “Are we sure we can trust Bruce? He's been getting along with the team well enough, but he seems a bit too fond of Loki.”
“I love my brother a great deal, yet that has never been a problem for you,” Thor pointed out.
Natasha looked away, shaking her head. Clint placed a hand on her shoulder and looked at the others, “It is a concern, though. How do we know Loki won't run?”
“Why haven't we gotten a call from Fury?” Natasha demanded, “They should have realized he was gone by now, how did he even get here?”
“Magic,” Thor replied with a laugh, “Loki has always been fond of making duplicates, it will be some time before SHIELD has any idea he has gone.”
“That just makes me feel so much more comfortable about the situation,” Clint muttered, his hand on Natasha's shoulder tightening. She placed a hand on top of it.
Steve shook his head, “No one knew if that cage could actually hold Loki, we only hoped, this isn't really a surprise.”
“It doesn't exactly give us a strong position in negotiations,” Natasha muttered, “We have no idea if we can trust him.”
“We don't have much of a choice,” Tony pointed out, “There's not a whole lot we can do to stop him from doing whatever the hell he wants.”
“What if we just force him back to Asgard?” Clint asked.
“My brother has been able to travel between the worlds without aid, it would do nothing but anger him further,” Thor sighed, “I intend to speak with Director Fury about what to do.” He turned to Steve, “I would appreciate it if you would join me.”
Steve smiled slightly and nodded, “Of course, I'll see about setting up a meeting for tomorrow.”
“I suppose it's too much to hope for this to be a pleasant visit.” Fury sighed, leaning back in his chair as he looked at the two men sitting across from him. He really would have preferred his job to go smooth, but it never seemed to. Captain America and the Norse God of Thunder deciding to have a little chat was filed on the list of “things not going smooth”. He was at least grateful they hadn't come in uniform, if only because he didn't really need to see Steve Rogers in skintight pants right now.
“Frankly, we would prefer it be pleasant as well, sir,” Steve said with a slight smile, “Although I'm mostly just here in case I need to mediate.”
“Mediate?” Fury asked, raising an eyebrow, he turned to Thor, “What, exactly, is this about?”
“It concerns my brother,” Thor replied gravely.
Fury shook his head and reached into a drawer on his desk, taking out a thick folder. “That's what I was afraid of,” he muttered, placing the folder down with a thud. “Gentlemen, do you have any idea what kind of headache Loki has been causing for me? And I get the feeling that you two are about to push that headache into a full blown migraine.”
“You should have told me what sort of man General Ross was when he asked to take my brother into custody,” Thor informed him, ignoring the folder.
Fury regarded him for a moment and shook his head, “I was hoping that I could make the others see reason about releasing Loki into Asgard's custody before that became a problem.”
“Then negotiations are not going as you would have hoped,” Thor prompted.
“One could say that,” he admitted, “So, what exactly are you here about?”
“I wish to have Loki released into my care,” Thor said. Fury's nostrils flared and brows furrowed, and Steve held up a hand to interrupt.
“We are aware that this is not likely to go over well, we just wanted to put it on the table,” he insisted, sitting up straighter, “Our real concern is that Loki has fully recovered from the wounds he received and we don't believe that the cage can hold him.”
“I don't suppose you have a suggestion on how we can improve our security,” Fury asked dryly.
“I have already answered this, my brother is an expert magic wielder and I know no one in this realm who could restrain him for long,” Thor answered gravely.
“And is there anything that I can do to postpone this escape of his?”
“Only his release.”
Fury massaged the bridge of his nose for a moment, shaking his head. “That will go over just great with the others.” He paused and looked between the two men, “Is there any chance you know when he'll be making his move?”
“No, sir,” Steve answered, looking down slightly.
“Very well,” Fury said, sighing heavily, “Thank you for this information, gentlemen. I'll figure out how to bring it up in today's meeting, I don't want either of you doing so,” Steve and Thor nodded their agreement, “And please be aware that if he does, indeed, escape- the next time he's captured, it will not end well for him.” He fixed Thor with a steely gaze, “And I hope that I have no reason to think that he will not be caught again.”
“Of course, sir, thank you,” Steve said with a smile, standing up and grabbing Thor's arm, gently pulling him to do the same. Thor did, his eyes narrowed as he watched the director. Steve yanked his arm again, and they both turned to leave the office.
They walked down the corridor a ways before Thor stopped and turned to Steve, “Am I correct in assuming that was a threat?”
“It might have been,” Steve said quietly, shaking his head. He looked down the empty hallway and sighed, “Things are going to get a lot more interesting than I'd want, no matter what anyone does.” He looked back at Thor, “Please tell me we're doing the right thing.”
Thor placed a hand on Steve's shoulder, “That cage can not hold my brother and it is only through the doctor's and my intervention that he has stayed so long. This way, there is a slight chance of preventing any more damage than has already been caused.”
Steve took a deep breath and nodded, “I think I can live with that.”
“Come,” Thor said with a grin, “There is still some time before the negotiations continue and you look like you could use a drink.”
“Alcohol doesn't actually effect me now, due to the, uh, super soldier treatment,” he admitted sheepishly.
Thor chuckled, “Your Midgardian drinks have little effect on me, either, but that is not the purpose of drinking. It is also a way to build camradery and get support from others, my experiences here indicate that this is the same in this realm as well as my own.”
“When you put it that way,” Steve smiled at him, “I'd love to.”
The meeting started rather uneventfully. Steve had had the foresight to cover up the smell of alcohol on the both of them, not that anyone would really be surprised to smell it on Thor. Fury and Steve still hadn't managed to convince him to come in in a business suit, and he instead insisted on wearing his armor. It was more or less accepted now, although it was obvious that most people in the room looked down on him for it, but it had certainly brought its fair share of remarks and loudly whispered jokes. Fortunately, Thor was beyond used to them and took them in stride.
The first day Fury had convinced Steve to show up in his Captain America uniform as well. Unfortunately, he was not able to respond to the remarks or jokes nearly as smoothly as Thor did. He was now in a business suit instead. Pepper had helped him pick out a few suits, so he was reasonably confident that they looked good and were period appropriate. There was something comforting in how little business suits had changed over the decades.
Fury spent the meeting waiting for a good time to bring up the suggestion, not that there really was such a thing as a good time to bring that up. His attempts were interrupted by the alarm going off. Everyone stood up, and a rather terrified agent ran into the room.
“P-permission to interrupt, sirs,” the agent stammered, standing at attention.
“Spit it out!” Fury snarled, rolling his eye. New recruits.
“Loki's escaped!” the agent half-shouted, “Director Fury, sir, I have your walkie-talkie.” The object was held up as proof, and was promptly snatched from his hand by Fury.
“Hill! Give me an update!”
“Loki broke through the cage, our agents are already down there, he's gotten ahold of some sort of weapon somehow, sir,” was the crackled response, “The Avengers have been notified- Hawkeye and Black Widow are down there, Iron Man is on his way.”
Fury took a moment to glance at Steve and Thor, who nodded before bolting out the door. He glanced at Ross and took a deep breath, “Banner?”
“He's at Stark Tower- I told him not to put the city at risk, there's no way he can get here in time.”
General Ross smirked, “See what I told you, Director? Need to tighten that leash- one time you need the damned thing and it's out of your reach.”
“Doctor Banner is an expert physicist, his talents are put to far better use at Stark Industry,” Fury informed him tersely, “My men are more than capable of handling one man, this is hardly a concern.” The General just smirked at him. Fury's nostrils flared slightly but he made no other reaction, “Gentlemen, there is an evacuation plan prepared for matters just such as these. If you would all please come this way.”
He opened the door, gun raised, and checked the hallway. When it turned out to be clear, aside from the group of agents assigned to help escort them safely, he held the door open and nodded to the men to file out. Ross held back to last, and smirked at Fury, “It is a shame, I was looking forward to see just how well that monster worked on a team after all that talk.”
A distinctive roar managed to drown out the alarm. Ross's face paled. Fury smirked.
“Oh, good, looks like you've got your chance.”
A few hours before the meeting, Thor and Steve were not the only Avengers who were getting a drink. It wasn't terribly surprising that Tony Stark had been as well.
“You know, you really do look like you could use a drink right now,” Tony pointed out, holding up a glass for Bruce. Bruce shook his head and he shrugged before pouring himself a glass. “The offer still stands, I've got anything you could want.”
Bruce smiled, “Water will be fine, really, I'd rather have a clear head right now.”
“Only a few hours until you told Loki to break out, JARVIS will let us know as soon as we get the call, you'll be staying here- I don't really see why you'd want a clear head,” Tony pointed out, walking around the bar towards where Bruce was sitting, “This seems like the ideal time for you to get drunk, really.” He handed a glass of water to Bruce anyways, who took it with a smile.
“Actually,” he started, licking his lips. He took a sip of the water before continuing, “A very, very strong part of me- as well as the other guy- would not really mind going there with you after all, and I'm pretty sure alcohol will sap my ability to know better”
“Because Ross will be there, right?” Tony asked, frowning.
“Something like that,” he agreed, finishing off the water as if it were a shot.
Tony shifted his weight and looked out the window thoughtfully, “That would cause a lot of trouble for you, really, not that I can blame you for wanting to kill the guy- I read the file.”
“I wouldn't kill him, you know, I don't want that- if only because I can't help but think of the look on Betty's face if I did,” Bruce sighed heavily, “Just one punch, that's really all. I think he might be okay with that, too.”
“One punch from him is enough to kill most people,”Tony pointed out and Bruce grimaced. He finished off his drink, “Hey, JARVIS, have you still got that information on Hulk's strength?”
“Of course, sir,” the AI replied, “I can compute what sort of punch the Hulk could deliver without mortally injuring General Ross, although I do not know what benefit this will be- I believe such calculations are beyond his comprehension level.”
“They're not beyond mine, and if he's willing to work with me, we can make this happen,” Bruce said, any little voices in his head screaming what a bad idea this is drowned out.
“Is he willing to work with you?” Tony asked.
Bruce closed his eyes and mentally prodded the part of his mind where Hulk resided. ' How 'bout it, big guy? You willing to shake him up just a little? ' The response he got was a grin.
Hawkeye had to admit, Loki was doing a rather magnificent job of making every appearance of fighting off the SHIELD officers without seriously hurting anyone. Loki had burst out of the cage in a rather impressive explosion that left it a smouldering wreck. He walked out, carrying a spear-like staff which he pointed at the control panel. A burst of energy shot out of it, destroying the control panel as thoroughly as the cage had been. By that time, agents had shown up and guns were pointing at him. Black Widow was among them, and Hawkeye was perched above them, bow drawn.
Loki managed to make his way down a few hallways, deflecting bullets and arrows with some kind of force field. The shots he fired back managed to miss people by millimeters- the walls were taking a beating, but no one had suffered any injuries thusfar. A few minutes later, Thor and Captain America appeared. Cap was still wearing his business suit, though carrying his shield. The agents started backing off as the Avengers took the front.
“Iron Man, what's your position?” Hawkeye asked through the headset.
“Just about on top of you, and you're in luck, I brought a present.” The other Avengers paused at that, although Cap still easily deflected a blow from Loki. They could practically hear the smirk in his voice.
Black Widow rolled her eyes, “You didn't .” A roar cut off any response they could have been expecting, and Loki's eyes widened.
“Brother!” Thor shouted sharply, trying to get his attention. He barely got the word out before Loki disappeared in a burst of green smoke.
“JARVIS?” Tony asked, navigating his way through SHIELD to where the rest of the Avengers were. Times like this were the reason that Fury didn't bother trying to oust the AI from his system, his ability to scan all the security cameras faster than any human could was incredibly beneficial.
“I suggest that your team turn around,” was the only response. Captain America and Thor spun around in time to block an attack from behind and catch site of his coat as he disappeared down the hallway. Thor started after him first, the others soon followed, Captain America was the only one who didn't.
“All of you- evacuate the facility. There are diplomats here, they need to get out safely, find out if there are any problems,” Cap shouted to the SHIELD agents. They nodded, appearing grateful to have the chance until one of them spoke up.
“Sir- Loki ran in the direction of the diplomats.”
Fury stayed at the back of the group, keeping an eye out for any threats from that direction. Ross, infuriatingly, chose to stay close to him and take the opportunity to make further remarks about Doctor Banner. Fortunately, there was only a few moments before they were interrupted. They had been walking down a long hallway, one of the many that had been rebuilt to allow for the Hulk's size after being destroyed in his attempts to chase after bad guys. Loki ran into view from the hallway that they were heading towards. They turned around in time to see the Hulk appear in the other direction. Time seemed to freeze for a moment, the two staring at each other, over the group of diplomats and officials and SHIELD agents. Ross broke the silence with a shot aimed at the Hulk. The officers ushered the diplomats through an intersecting hallway. Loki saw this and blasted the ceiling, causing it to fall, trapping Ross and Fury between the two.
“Orders, sir?” an agent called through a crack in the rubble.
“Get them out of here, you idiots, the general and I can handle ourselves,” Fury shouted, glaring at Ross. He motioned towards another hallway a ways ahead. The two started running for it, Loki's staff lit up as he aimed a blow at the two. Hulk roared again at that, running down the hallway as Loki fired off the blast. Hulk smacked Ross out of the way, sending him flying into the hallway that they'd been running at.
Fury paused and stared at him for a moment before running to make sure the General was okay while silently considering what paperwork he'd have to file if Ross was killed. The man was clearly wounded but still conscious, and Fury draped him over his shoulder and proceeded down the hallway.
“I hope you remember this, you son of a bitch, because that “monster” you've been pissing on just saved your damn life,” Fury snarled, quickly pushing into a stairwell while he got in contact with other agents to get their attention.
Hulk and Loki paused staring each other down. Loki fired a shot that went just over his shoulder and Hulk snarled, baring his teeth.
“Stop,” Loki said, holding his hands up and licking his lips, “There was a security camera. I don't want there to be any incriminating evidence against Bru- any of you.”
“Attack Ross- Why?” Hulk growled.
Loki smirked, “I imagine you were looking for an excuse for revenge- and having him owe you his life seemed far sweeter than just smacking him around a bit.”
Hulk's lips curled up slightly for a moment, until he heard footsteps. “Run.” He hissed before roaring again and charging at Loki as a group of agents, and the other Avengers, ran into the hallway, arriving in time to see him again disappear into smoke. Thor, who was at the front, rushed forward to stop the Hulk's charge. Most of them looked behind just in case, Iron Man, who had caught up to them by then, again made a call to JARVIS.
“I've got a visual on him, sir, he is outside,” the AI paused for a moment, “He's stolen a motorcycle of some sort, and is making his way from the facility.” Captain America swore when he heard that, earning an intrigued glance from the others, even the Hulk.
Fury's voice crackled over their ear pieces, “Shut down the alarm, then, focus on making sure any wounded get medical care, then assess the damage. We'll figure out what to do about Loki later.”
Extra big update this time. I'm not accustomed to writing action scenes so apologies if this didn't work so well. I'm hoping the next chapter will be the last.
Things got interesting after that. Once again repairs had to be made, a few more areas of SHIELD had to be redesigned to be Hulk friendly after yet another section was broken by his barreling through to get to the fighting. There were a few wounded, no dead and nothing really serious. General Ross was worse for wear, his age was showing in how badly the blow effected him but he would heal. He was released from the hospital that day. Maria Hill secretly kept Betty up to date about it as best she could, they'd met after the Hulk fiasco in New York a few years back and even if she didn't want to speak with or even see her father, she still worried about him.
They found themselves in Fury's office the next day, all of them crowded in rather uncomfortably. Tony, despite being the last to arrive, managed to be lounging in the only other chair in the room, feet resting on Fury's desk.
Fury's lips were pressed together and his nostrils were flared as he watched them all, “I just want to make it clear, if there are any problems with Loki after this--”
“You'll take away our allowance and ground us, got it,” Tony interrupted, rolling his eyes.
“I don't know exactly what happened yesterday, but you can't deny how suspicious it is that Loki escapes just a few hours after I get warned that he may,” Fury pointed out.
“Sir, we had no way of knowing that was going to happen when it did,” Steve insisted. Behind him, Bruce shrunk into himself a bit more where he was standing in the back of the room.
“Well,” Fury muttered, “I suppose it's some comfort to know that the good doctor is not, actually, able to lie to my face.” Steve jerked his head around to look at the scientist at that point, who refused to meet his gaze. Fury ignored that and raised his voice, “I don't suppose you want to add anything to this discussion, Doctor Banner?”
Tony took his feet off the desk and sat up straighter, “If you really think that any of us are able to control Loki--”
“I think that you had some information and hid it from me,” Fury replied.
“Yes, because you've never done anything like that to us,” Bruce spat, folding his arms and shaking his head. Tony raised his eyebrows at Fury and leaned back in the chair while the rest of the room shifted uncomfortably.
Fury stood up and motioned towards the door, “I would like to speak with Doctor Banner privately.”
“I'll bet you would,” Tony scoffed.
Thor stood up and took a step towards the desk, “If you wish to threaten our teammate, you shall have to face all of us first.”
Fury glanced around the room. Steve had his jaw set, although he was biting his lip. Natasha and Clint glanced at each other, Clint gave her a half-smile and Natasha raised an eyebrow and nodded. Bruce looked as overwhelmed as Fury felt, although for fairly different reasons. He shook his head and sat back down.
“Well then, I suppose there isn't much choice- Doctor Banner, could you at least do me the favor of approaching the desk?” He glared at Tony, “Perhaps Mr. Stark will be willing to give up his seat and we can talk properly.”
Tony raised an eyebrow at Fury before looking to Bruce, who had made his way to the desk by then. Bruce just placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled softly, “I'm fine to stand, don't worry.” He then looked to Fury expectantly, his hand not leaving Tony's shoulder.
“Do I have anything to worry about from you? And please be upfront with me,” he motioned around the room, “There is clearly nothing I can do to you without facing severe backlash.”
Bruce took a moment to answer, trying to ignore the feeling of all attention on him, “You know the answer- I ran away, and I didn't start plotting anyone's demise. I helped people. If I was going to plot world domination, I would have by now.” He placed his hands on the desk and leaned down so his face was inches away from Fury, and lowered his voice, “Hulk likes his teammates and wants to make sure they're safe, if that's your concern, but let me make one thing very clear- you are not part of the team, so don't give us a reason to think we need to protect them from you.”
“I suppose that's the best I can ask for,” Fury said, pushing the chair back and standing up as Bruce straightened himself, “You're all dismissed, and I ask that you lay low until I get this sorted out.” Tony smirked and Fury chuckled, “Stark- 'laying low' for you involves being as showy as possible. People will be more shocked if you don't.” Tony just narrowed his eyes before strutting out of the room, exaggeratedly nonchalant.
No one really bothered looking for Loki, because there was no point in looking for Loki. Instead, after meeting with Fury, they made their way to a private room in a nearby pub because Thor insisted on fine ale and mead. There were a few dry remarks about needing to be drunk right now. Steve stuck with water, insisting he couldn't get drunk and didn't care for the taste, and Bruce got them to boil hot water so he could make himself tea. Somehow it wasn't a surprise that he carried teabags on him.
“When did you decide about Loki escaping?” Steve asked sharply after everyone had sat down at the table with drinks, Thor had a keg of ale on a stool behind him.
“When they built that damn cage,” Bruce suggested conversationally, casually stirring the water as the tea steeped. It wasn't generally done, stirring tea while it steeped, but it gave him something to do with his hands.
Natasha narrowed her eyes, “You're joking.”
Bruce shrugged, “Yes and no- I hate that the thing existed, seeing someone in it didn't help. But escaping wasn't my idea. They put a dangerous person in a cage that couldn't hold him, they're lucky he stayed as long as he did.”
“You should have included me in the plan,” Thor growled, “He is my brother.”
Tony leaned back in the seat, “He doesn't seem too keen to think of you that way.”
“He still cares about him, though, even if they don't see eye to eye, you can't just stop caring about your little brother,” Clint pointed out quietly, avoiding anyone's gaze. Natasha's hand disappeared under the table to squeeze his knee gently.
Thor nodded gravely, “Exactly.”
“It was a last minute development, you had meetings all day- we tried texting you,” Tony said loftily, waving a hand before taking an overly long drink.
Bruce looked down at his cup, “We did try,” he offered in a small voice, “It was Loki's decision, he asked JARVIS about the functions of the cage and...” he took a sip of tea, “He didn't really want to stay in there any longer.”
“He only agreed to stay and stage the break out because it would cause you so much grief, Thor,” Tony added. Thor nodded and sat back in his seat, arms crossed.
“I still don't like it,” Natasha pointed out with a frown. Various responses of agreement crossed the table. “We shouldn't have been kept in the dark, not on something this important.”
Steve nodded, “We're a team, we need to be included in things like this- all of us.”
“Won't happen again,” Bruce muttered.
“That does not matter now,” Thor insisted, sitting up and smiling at the table, he raised his tankard, “We have battled well and no lives were lost. Crisis has been averted, we should be celebrating!” There was a stunned silence for a moment. Steve was the first to recover and smiled brightly, raising his glass slightly and looking around hopefully. Tony followed with a lopsided grin. Natasha paused before raising hers, nudging Clint with her elbow until he followed suit. They all turned to glance at Bruce who gave the most half-hearted attempt at raising his tea cup. The group clinked their glasses (and cup and tankard) together. The drinking session took a notable turn towards the pleasant after that.
“This is a very serious question,” Tony was pacing in one of the many lounges of Stark Tower, “How exactly can two of the- and I'm being literal here, no exaggeration- most intelligent men in the entire world not have considered making sure we could get in contact with Loki after all of this?”
After the impromptu drinking session had wound down and everyone had gone their separate ways, Thor had asked Tony & Bruce how they intended to get in contact with his brother now, wishing to speak with Loki himself. It was at that point that they realized they hadn't had any sort of plan in place for after. Tony spent the entire drive home muttering about it while Thor occasionally gave suggestions and concerns and Bruce stared out the window, silent aside from the occasional 'yeah', 'uh huh', 'right' needed to ensure Tony felt he wasn't being ignored.
“I am also finding it even harder to believe that you have nothing to say about this.” Apparently it had stopped working and Tony had noticed that Bruce's attention wasn't on him.
Bruce sighed at that and shook his head, “He'd always found me. I guess I didn't realize that I could have a way to find him.”
Tony frowned and crossed his arms, “Well that's just incredibly comforting.”
“I had not considered it, either,” Thor reminded him, “I had always known where to find my brother when we were growing up. And I must confess that part of me had hoped he would realize it was best to come stay with me.”
“I realize that you three are best buddies and there aren't many options that aren't better than letting Ross get his claws in him, but I still don't trust the guy and would really like to know what you two are planning to do if he does decide to go on a rampage,” Tony put out there. Thor stiffened and set his jaw, but didn't say anything.
Bruce shrugged, “The same thing that happens if I do.” Tony opened his mouth to object, point out how the two are completely different situations, but Thor started speaking first.
“Or, indeed, if I do,” Thor added quietly. Two sets of eyes turned to him, and he sighed. “I never did tell you why I was sent to Midgard in the first place. I was exiled, I had gone to another world and wiped out dozens- maybe hundreds- in a manner of minutes, nearly starting a war. I was a bloodthirsty and battle hungry brute, and had almost been crowned king.” He leaned back in his chair and shook his head, “I have been given a second chance here, which I will be eternally grateful for. My brother deserves that same chance.”
Tony stared at him for a moment and clenched his fists. He nodded gruffly, “I suppose everyone in this room, maybe everyone on the team, has gotten a second chance, so I'll just have to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Thor smiled wearily at him, “Thank you.” He stood up and glanced out the window, sunset was creeping over the skyline, “I must leave now.” He looked at Bruce, “Please tell me if you hear from my brother.”
After everyone- Tony, Bruce, and JARVIS- agreed to do so, the demigod took his leave, leaving Tony and Bruce alone. The silence that fell was tense and Tony poured himself another drink to distract himself from it.
“So, what will you do if you never see or hear from Loki again?” Tony asked casually, “Awful lot of trouble to rescue the damsel just to not get the girl, well, god in this case.”
Bruce chuckled at the image of Loki as a princess locked in the tower, and shook his head, “I didn't go to any trouble. He could leave whenever he wanted, I just asked him to work with our schedule.”
“You really won't care if he just ditches you completely?” He raised an eyebrow at that.
Something in Bruce's stomach squirmed at the thought, but he just shrugged, “It might be nice to see him again, but I didn't do it for that.” He stood up and rubbed his neck uncomfortably, “I'm still not used to the thought of you letting me live here...”
Tony paused and then smirked, “Well, you better get used to it because I expect to finally get you into my lab tomorrow- and don't plan on letting you leave until we're putting that brain to real use.”
Bruce smiled sheepishly and nodded, “I'll be there. Right now... I think I want to call it an early night.”
There was a pause, for a moment Tony's face fell but the expression was immediately replaced. He grinned and waved him away, “Of course, it's been a long day. Just ask JARVIS if you need anything.”
It was hard to admit to himself that disappointment crept into him when he got to the room Tony was letting him use to find it completely empty. There really was no reason to expect Loki to be there, but when he switched the lights on he realized that he actually had.
The next day he did get to see Tony's labs, which he'd seen before but never for very long, and found out that Tony had actually started setting up a budget so that Bruce could work on anything he found people had needed while making house calls in Kolkata. Tony insisted it was entirely for PR, and Bruce was grateful to have a way to deal with the guilt for the people he'd left behind.
Then Tony showed him some new designs he was working on for the suit, including something he was having a hard time figuring out, and the rest of the day ended up disappearing in a blur of science.
The next few days went the same, and they very quickly fell back into the routine they'd established at SHIELD, only a bit more comfortably. Tony seemed to take the opportunity to start recruiting more of the Avengers to be his housemate, as their next movie night was held there for the first time.
About a week or so later, most of the team was back to normal. Thor would still get lost in thoughts from time to time, pleadingly ask Bruce if he'd seen Loki, but also seemed in better spirits with every day without any incidents that could be linked to his brother. They got called in to fight some enemy, nothing terribly exciting. Some kid with powers who fancied themself a supervillain, something that was getting more common. They managed to capture him unharmed, and Hulk wasn't actually needed this time although Bruce could feel him dangerously close- waiting for the first sign his team might need him. Bruce stayed on the sidelines and ended up overhearing when Fury made a call to a 'Professor X' about collecting the kid. Bruce made a mental note to ask JARVIS about that.
For once, it meant that Bruce got to see what happened after everything was over. Rather than being rushed away by paranoid medics with geiger counters, he got to help them with the civilian injuries. Clint and Natasha left quickly to SHIELD, something about debriefing, and Thor left as well. Tony stayed and entertained the news agencies, and Steve talked with Fury. A jet that none of the team recognized showed up for the kid, and a few people none of them had met before stepped out. Steve looked shell-shocked when he saw one of them, a man in a ridiculous orange and black outfit. Tony suggested it was because he finally got to meet someone with an outfit as ridiculous as his.
Tony & Bruce got back to Stark Tower and worked on minor repairs until Tony inisted that they call it a night. It turned out that Tony's habit of making sure Bruce took care of himself was continuing as well, and Bruce didn't mind it. Especially because it gave him an excuse to make sure Tony was doing the same.
He got back to the room and picked up his tablet- a commercially bought one because the see-through things Tony kept making were unnerving for general web browsing. A few minutes later a knock sounded on his door and he almost dropped the tablet. No one knocked on his door. Tony barged in, Pepper had JARVIS ask him to meet her somewhere, and none of the other Avengers visited him in his room. Of course, if it were anyone dangerous- JARVIS would have already told him.
He placed the tablet down gently and crossed over to the door, opening it with some hesitation. Loki was standing in the doorway, again dressed in mortal clothes. He had two mugs in his hand, and was holding one out with a smirk.
“I made tea.”
I'm sorry for how long this took! Things kept coming up and I struggled to find a way to end it that I was happy with.
On the slight x-men reference, I've seen a few cartoons recently that said Wolverine & Cap worked together during WW2, so wanted to throw it in. I have no idea if Mari Hill & Betty got along in any of the canons, I just wanted to make some mention of her. I don't like how much she's ignored.