Chapter 1: Clint
When they finally rescued Clint and Jan from the rubble, Clint demanded to know what had happened to Hulk. When Steve told him, Clint punched him in the jaw.
“Hey, Hawkeye!” Jan said, grabbing him. “Easy there!”
Steve was rubbing his jaw a little, but with a thoughtful expression directed at Clint, rather than one of pain or anger. On another day, Clint might have mentally examined this reaction more closely—but at the moment he was all rage.
Clint snapped, “Steve, you’re our leader, fine, but right now I have half a mind to—”
Jan tugged at his arm again, distraught. “Clint, stop it! Steve was just trying to help!”
Clint pulled away from Jan, still eyeing the Captain narrowly, and more than ready for a round of fisticuffs. The last time, when SHIELD had gotten their hands on Hulk, they’d put him in the Cube. The day Clint had spoken to Bruce… he’d been in that enormous, Hulk-containing contraption, looking skinny, pale, and dirty. He hadn’t looked good, and that was putting it mildly. That had been SHIELD then, and now that the military had gotten their hands on him, there wasn’t—Clint didn’t—
Steve’s hands were up, palms open. “Focus now, Hawkeye,” Steve said. “What with everything going on, we didn’t need another fight. They won’t do anything to Hulk—and in the meantime, we need to take care of the Skrull threat first.”
When Clint continued to look at Steve with murderous intent, Steve persisted, “You need to do this for Hulk. What good will it do to fight for him now, if there won’t be a free planet for him to return to later?”
Clint stared at Steve, breathing hard. Then he sat down, and he put his face in his hands. He couldn’t figure out why his chest was hurting so much, like something squeezing down.
He thought: Hulk had been the only one who’d defended him, in the face of Tony’s accusations.
And now Clint had let him down.
They’d all let him down, but maybe—maybe Steve was right. They had to stop the Skrulls. After that, Clint could focus on beating up General Ross within an inch of his life.
Jan put a hand to Clint’s shoulder, and Clint did not shrug her off.
“Fine,” Clint said, and not looking at Steve. “Fine, whatever you say, oh glorious leader.”
“That’s the spirit,” Steve said.
So Clint waited.
And he waited.
And then when he found out that the Cap had been a Skrull all along—
After the defeat of the Skrulls, Clint went looking for Hulk, and he made Tony help.
It took two weeks for them to track down where the Hulk was being held, and they talked for about two minutes about waiting first for Hulk to be officially cleared of the old charges, all of the SHIELD paperwork—or Tony talked at Clint until it was quite clear that Clint was this close to trashing Tony’s computers. The conversation had ended pretty quickly after that.
Clint guilted Steve into letting him go, making it clear that—proper protocol or no, it was now as much Steve’s responsibility to get Hulk out as anyone else’s. Steve was pretty easy to persuade, actually. There would be a moment, later, when Clint would recall the idea that Steve himself had been prisoner in a cell for many weeks himself, not to mention the negative way the public was viewing him now…
Whatever. Clint didn’t care for the reasons, he simply wanted to get things done, and to get Hulk back.
Tony hacked into the military computers and security systems.
Clint broke into the cell.
Bruce and Hulk had been in military custody for nearly a month, now, and Bruce was sitting in the dim corner of the room, looking small and alone—and Clint felt something in his chest tighten. He didn’t care for Bruce in the same way that he did for Hulk, but he also knew damn well that Bruce was Hulk’s family, and you looked out for family, and Clint looked out for Bruce.
Clint walked over slowly, careful to not spook the smaller man, and he said, “Hey, hey Bruce—“
Bruce looked up then. His face was haggard in the dim light. Clint felt his hand tighten on his bow, even as Bruce’s eyes narrowed, then cleared when he saw who it was.
Clint knelt down, and then cautiously touched a hand to Bruce’s shoulder. “We’re busting you out—sorry it took so long for us to find you—”
“Steve told us to surrender,” Bruce snarled, suddenly tense and drawing back. “That worked out so well, didn’t it—“
Clint pulled his hand away. “It was a trick,” he said, feeling a little numb. “I’m sorry, that wasn’t Steve—a Skrull was—I should have come right away, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry—” Clint took in deep, shuddering breath, “Look, never mind that, we have to get you out, now—“
And then it wasn’t Bruce anymore. The Hulk was looming over him, clothes shredding, and for a moment, Clint looked up and he didn’t—
But Hulk was simply sitting there. In fact, he was very close, hunched down so that he could look Clint in the eye. For a moment, there was an expression like irritation, or anger—but then the expression had smoothed away into something that Clint found he couldn’t parse out. It was a quieter look, somehow.
“So Cupid finally made it,” was all Hulk said.
“Yeah,” Clint said. “I guess I finally did.”
And then the prison guards finally showed up.
And Clint and Hulk exchanged the old, familiar looks.
And then they were busting their way out of there.
Chapter 2: Bruce
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The worst of it had been the isolation.
Bruce and Hulk technically weren’t alone in there, given the obvious, but every time Hulk tried to come out, they’d set up some kind of high frequency system that put the worst pain through their skull until it knocked them out cold—and so Hulk had stopped coming out. Hulk had raged and raged inside their head, and then he’d buckled down, and then there was a time that Bruce realized that he’d been crying, tears tracking down the body’s face.
Hulk was trapped.
It was one thing to go in every once in a while, to let Bruce out—but to be this kind of trapped, and unable to emerge for fear of what they would do to him—it was pretty bad.
There could have been comments made about what this said about the hypocrisy of their personal living arrangements, but now wasn’t really the time, and anyway Bruce had willing agreed to it. Besides, Hulk's relationship to their personal arrangements was a complicated one, and Bruce recognized that.
On the other hand, Hulk had definitely not agreed to any of this, this entire prison set-up. Bruce sat in the cell, and ran his hands over increasingly familiar seams, smooth and cold and entrapping—and he talked to the big guy. He told him that everything was going to be okay, that their friends would come for them. As the hours and days passed longer and longer, Hulk told Bruce in a snarl that he didn’t believe him. Bruce didn’t blame him.
Periodically, they were given food and water.
Every once in a while, they were given a clean change of clothes.
Sometimes, the cell was injected with a sedative gas, and when Bruce woke up, he could see the bandaging where a needle had been inserted into his arm, drawing blood.
Bruce was afraid, and he was in a cold, dimly lit military cell—at least they’d let him keep a hoodie, small comfort though that was—and there was a guy in his head who couldn’t have emotionally been older than his late teens or early twenties—and Bruce tried his best to look out for him. Frankly, the looking-out-for could be a thankless job, sometimes, but Bruce did it anyway because he wanted to.
The first night that Hulk had spent at the Avenger’s mansion was also the first that he’d gotten his own bed—it’d been a queen-size, and still a little too small. Tony would later order them up a custom-size bed and mattress set, but the first night Hulk had looked at his sleeping quarters. Then he’d lain down on the bed with his hands folded on his stomach, legs hanging off, and looking up at the ceiling. He was still nursing resenting feelings about compatriots that he imagined called him a monster behind his back—or in front of him—but there was also a complicated feeling on top of that. This was the first bedroom Hulk could call his own, the first bed he had ever lain down on, and there was a complicated feeling that might have been longing, although Hulk would never have been able to say what for.
Bruce had watched him, torn between wryness and fondness.
He’d wondered then, and since then, if this was what it was like to have a brother—someone you couldn’t hate if you tried. Someone you cared for, even when they drove you crazy.
In the cell, Bruce sat with Hulk inside their mind and tried to think about good things. He tried remembering comfortable beds with clean sheets. He tried remembering fresh lemonade and hot slices of pizza. He tried remembering the sun. It was better than looking at the walls of their cell, and better than thinking about the bandages on their arm, the implications of it
Hulk curled up like a big green mountain inside their mind and didn’t talk much, but he listened to Bruce.
They tried not to think about teammates who, to all appearances, had left them to rot in a military prison.
When Hawkeye arrived to free them, Hulk had come out personally. For a moment, Bruce was almost certain that Hulk wanted to punch the smaller man—but then the sensation had given way to another one of those mixtures of complicated emotions. There was almost a fond feeling, and somehow a little sadness, looking at the guy who’d come to save them.
Hulk had thought that they’d been abandoned, and now Hawkeye was here.
“So Cupid finally made it,” Hulk said.
Hulk often didn’t say what he was really thinking, and what he really meant then was thank you for coming.
He really meant, thank you for not forgetting me.
And then when the sirens went off, he and Hawkeye were going out to do what they liked best—punching military goons where it hurt most.
It was probably a bit spiteful, given that most of these guys were probably just following orders, etc. etc.
Hulk could have cared less and, for once, Bruce was in full agreement.
You can see Hulk lying in a bed that's too big for him at 1:33 here. I don't make this stuff up; Hulk is adorable :3