Bruce was lonely. Steve and Tony were in Paris, Thor had gone back to Asgard and Natasha and Clint had never wanted to hang out with him in the first place.
He considered going to the dancing place he had visited with Steve and Tony all those months ago, but he suspected it wouldn't be much fun on his own.
He used to enjoy solitude, but recent friendships and companionship had altered that. So now, left to his own devices, he was miserable.
It had been years since he had been embraced by the scientific community, but recently Bruce had decided to try and publish some research. He was limited in what he could reveal, as almost everything he had been working on was classified, but there was enough there to knock up a pretty impressive paper. So impressive that he had been invited to a big gala event to accept an award on the subject.
It was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one. Acceptance was always welcome.
And there would be people there who were not hostile. None of them knew he was the Hulk, most of them would be impressed by Dr. Banner.
A little voice at the back of his head whispered he might even get lucky with someone. He might meet The One. If there was a One. Tony had mentioned there were reports of a lawyer who had a secret identity as a 'She Hulk' . If he ever met her, Bruce knew they would have things in common, but he wasn't bowled over by the idea of someone who had quite so much in common. Also it would be a little too convenient if he ended up with her. It wasn't going to happen. He was intrigued but not really interested.
He was, however, ready to date again at least. With all that entailed.
The speech went well, everyone applauded, many congratulated him afterward.
He was talking to a group of graduate students about his ideas when she approached: a willowy woman with long dark hair and a mesmerizing smile.
“Dr. Banner, I believe,” she almost purred, holding out a slender, well-manicured hand to Bruce. “I love your work. May I have an autograph?”
Bruce took her hand and smiled back. “Thanks.” Her grip was tighter than Bruce would have imagined it to be, but there was a definite frisson.
“We have met, though you probably don't remember,” she continued as he signed his name for her.
Bruce blinked. He looked at the woman for a second, trying to remember where he might have met her; she seemed vaguely familiar. He wondered if he had been the Hulk at the time, and felt a rising wave of panic.
“Hush,” she said, as if sensing this. “Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me. She leaned forward and whispered in his ear, “I won't tell if you don't.”
With blinding clarity he suddenly recognized the face, if not the rest of her. “Loki?” he said, slightly choked, hoping if he was wrong she would overlook the faux pas, or just not know what he was talking about.
She said nothing, but her smile increased and she seemed amused.
“What are you doing here?” Bruce said tightly, fighting the urge to turn into The Other Guy.
“I'm just taking break from the old me, temporarily. I am very lovely, aren't I?”
Despite the egotism of the statement, Bruce couldn't really deny the truth of it. Though when he looked at this stunning woman, he couldn't help but see the old Loki concurrently. Which, rather confusingly for Bruce, made him even more turned on by the creature before him.
She giggled. “Oh my, am I making you angry? I can see parts of you getting bigger already.”
Bruce blushed, a little tint of green in his cheeks.
“Why aren't you locked up? I thought Thor had said they were going to punish you,” Bruce snarled.
“Well, their version of punish might differ from yours. It might even differ from mine. I was exiled, in this form. To be perfectly honest I am enjoying it so far.” Loki seemed very relaxed about it.
“You can't change back?” Bruce asked.
“You know, I am not at all sure. Maybe a kiss from my One True Love will do it – do you want to give it a try?”
“No!” Bruce said, a little too quickly.
“You know, people can change Dr. Banner. I would have thought you would know that more than most,” Loki said sadly. Before turning to leave.
There were many people wanting to talk to Bruce and though he tried to follow Loki he quickly lost sight of the erstwhile god of mischief.
He felt surprisingly miserable about that.