Clint had spent the last three hours with Bruce on a fishing boat in a lake in the middle of nowhere, and it’s crazy. He could have gone back to the Quinjet. He could have been playing video games in air-conditioned quarters, or taken his bow and gone practicing with Stark Tech targets. He could have been anywhere but in a boat while Bruce went fishing, and Bruce supposed, idly, that there were a couple of ways that he could have read this:
It might have been a gesture of friendship-solidarity with Hulk, who Clint got along swimmingly with.
Or maybe it was an indication of exactly how helpless he thought Bruce was, like some fragile little guy who’d fall into the lake and drown the minute everyone turned their backs, which was idiotic.
A final possibility was that Clint didn’t hate being in a boat, fishing, as much as he would have made it sound like, although he was making this last one hardest to believe, given all the complaining, and also the fact that Bruce could feel practically feel Clint’s irritation radiating off, a physical disturbance of the peace. (He might as well have been rocking the boat with it, like the pulsing bass off a sound-speaker turned-up high).
Bruce tried not to let it get to him. While Clint sat sullen in the back, Bruce squinted through the sunlight, breathing in. He meditated in his mind, and then turned his eyes back to the fishing line. At least when Clint wasn’t complaining, it was quiet, out there in the woods. Bruce loved being out on a boat, that serenely rocking feeling. Bruce loved the green smell of the woods and the lake. He loved the color of the sky on the water.
Also, Clint had fallen into restless napping, and now it really was quiet. Bruce smiled, because his vacation was now perfect, and he watched the still fishing line, waiting patiently for the fish to bite.
Weirdly enough, of all the Avengers, Clint seemed to understand Hulk best.
He could appreciate Hulk’s sense of humor, and they liked to pal around in the easy manner of brothers; they seemed to operate on the same kind of mental wave-length. To each other, they were steadfastly loyal.
On the other hand, Bruce was nearly one hundred percent sure that Clint didn’t understand Bruce at all. Clint seemed to tolerate and look out for Bruce the way you’d look out for the brother of your best buddy. He handled Bruce with sarcasm and the air of the long-suffering. This was normal, coming from Clint, but also it was annoying. Actually, Bruce often longed to punch Clint right in the jaw. He could picture it in his mind like the craving for ice cream on a hot day, or like the itching desire for a razor when his stubble had gone on growing to a hobo-ish bristle, or like the longing for a day on the lake, when he’d been cooped up for ages and ages.
In his imagination, his knuckles connected square with Clint’s face, and the sensation was delicious and satisfying.
Of course, whenever Hulk cottoned on to these kinds of thoughts, he always ended up guffawing. He chuckled and snorted and snickered, and it was always Bruce who was the one out of breath and bent over a sore stomach from Hulk’s fit of the giggles.
Of course Hulk and Clint would get along.
Back on shore, Clint started their campfire, and Bruce went for the kindling. When Bruce came back carrying the wood, he found Clint sitting on a log, watching the fire with a ponderous expression. It was strange, sometimes, to get to see all of his facial muscles and mannerisms working like that. Clint tended to stalk around with his mask on at all times, so it was different to see him with it down. Without it, he looked just like an ordinary guy, really. He looked like an ordinary guy with a mouth that seemed weighted towards casual sarcasm, not to mention a penchant for purple.
Clint said, “I hope you remembered the stuff for s’mores.” He poked around at the fire with a long stick. “I love me some shmoes.” The last was said in an idle way, and Bruce cocked a brow at this Hawkeye in repose, and he still wasn’t quite sure if Clint was kidding or not.
They did have chocolate and marshmallows, the works, but when Clint broke into their pack five minutes later, it was to hunt out the beef jerky. He sat there chewing the jerky like, well like a big jerk, and Bruce sat down on the same log and drank from a flask of decaf tea.
They sat around not talking, and Bruce idly wondered if Clint really would have preferred having the Hulk for company. Probably.
He drank his tea.
Most people didn’t understand how the Hulk and Bruce worked. Hulk needed adrenaline in the body to trigger the process of emerging; he didn’t need it to stay out; also, he couldn’t go back in if adrenaline was still running amok in their system, but in all other ways it was a pretty loose game. The rule that said Bruce would only come out once a month was completely arbitrary, and Bruce sipped his drink ponderously and thought: Clint didn’t understand Bruce at all.
Being in Hulk’s head (the irony of the reversal) was like being in the head of someone who, while pretty smart, also let themselves be led around more by their whims and desires and petty annoyances. Hulk was emotionally somewhere between Bruce’s thirty-six years and a fifteen-year-old who could smash bricks with his bare hands. Hulk liked Jan, and respected Cap, and he thought Clint was hilarious, but sometimes it was like being in the head of an emotionally-troubled teenager, and Bruce—Bruce let Hulk be. Anyway, who could even understand what it was that Bruce had done for Hulk? Who could understand what it meant to say: I’m willing to now live my life literally behind the eyes of someone else—because I want him to figure out for himself that he really can be a force for good?
Clint couldn’t understand that. He still didn’t think of Bruce as a legitimate member of the Avengers, and sometimes Bruce really did want to punch him in the face—but then. Okay, well, admittedly sometimes he didn’t. Bruce watched the fire. He could have talked about violence, but he’d never do it. His heart wasn’t really in it, and that was all Hulk’s brand of business, anyway, and Hulk would never punch Clint.
Bruce pinched a little at the bridge of his nose, wondering at the profound absurdity of his life. There was a Hulk who was a roommate in his head, and there was Bruce Banner and former SHIELD operative Hawkeye sitting together in front of a campfire not-singing Kumbaya, and Clint did not offer Bruce any beef jerky. Bruce did not offer Clint any tea. The whole situation was idiotic, but maybe it would have felt less idiotic if he wasn’t wearing such a dumb fishing vest, and an even dumber hat (the only suitable fishing clothes he could find on short notice in the mansion). And maybe if Clint wasn’t wearing such a flashy purple costume in the middle of the woods—Well. Fine, okay, maybe they were all working for the air of absurdity. They really were trying for this, because the picture of them, as he imagined it being, couldn’t have gotten any better if they’d put up neon signs with light bulbs spelling out the ludicrous.
“What’s so funny?” Clint wanted to know, when he caught Bruce smiling into his flask.
Bruce just gave him wry look, sideways, and did not say.