They fall in through the door, landing in a heap of laughing, squirming superheroes. Bruce, who has apparently drawn the perpetually short stick for the day, is on the bottom of the pile. Thor's knee is jabbing him in the spine, and he's ninety percent certain that's Natasha's fingers on his shoulder. Thor's not a light guy, and he struggles to free himself. They roll off, collapsing onto the cold tiles in fits of laughter.
"What the hell are you three laughin' about?" Clint asks, rubbing his eyes. "I'm tryin' to sleep here."
"It's four in the afternoon," Bruce points out, at the same time Natasha says, "Thor punched a photographer through a tree."
The three of them meet each other's eyes again, and soon they're back to the laughing. Bruce is quickly clutching his stomach and wheezing for air, yet somehow still uncontrollably giggling. Thor claps the floor with one hand, and laughs harder.
"I do not understand Midgardian traditions," the Asgardian says, once he's finally managed to control himself. "Do your people often attack each other with strange flashing devices? They were most rude to Brother Banner."
"They're paparazzi, Thor," Bruce tells him, careful to take deep breaths before he goes into cardiac arrest. "The flashing things are called cameras."
"Why would your kin attack you with these cameras?"
Natasha's face becomes stony, and she sighs. "They know about the Other Guy now. I'm sorry, Bruce."
Bruce shrugs, lifts himself up and then falls into a recliner. "It was going to happen eventually, right? People were going to know my face sooner or later. Besides, you nearly killed the camera guy with your coffee. You don't have to apologise."
"I did not intervene until that man called you monster," Thor says, proudly, preening at his chest and puffing it out. "I was most restrained in my effort."
"And I appreciate that, Thor. I really do," he says, chuckling.
"You are no monster, my friend. It was unjust of him to call you such," Thor replies.
"Throwing my coffee at him was the least of a long list of things I had in mind," Natasha confirms.
"You didn't do the thigh thing, did you? You know Coulson hates it when you do that in public."
Tasha hits Clint on the shoulder, then gives him a severe look that somehow still manages to look warm. She's an interesting woman, Natasha. Devastating to anyone who gets in her way, yet devastatingly loyal to her closest friends. That he is now a part of that list is frightening and extremely humbling at the same time.
It'd been a close thing. All those flashing lights, people shouting and hurling insults. The Other Guy had roared within him, clawing at his insides for a way to take control. It'd taken everything, every ounce of his restraint, to maintain the driver's seat. If Thor hadn't been there, if Natasha hadn't been there, what would have happened? The Hulk could have killed hundreds of people before Bruce reined him in.
A hand rests on his shoulder, snapping him from the morbidity of his thoughts. Thor peers down at him. "Banner. Know that we, as your kin, shall endeavour to keep you safe from this new threat."
It's perhaps the kindest, most heartfelt thing anyone has ever said to him. Tears prick at his eyes, and he chuckles. "Thanks, Thor. I appreciate you guys sticking up for me today. But...you won't always be there to make sure I don't hurt someone. I think it's time I left."
Clint jerks up, on his feet and rounding on Bruce in the blink of an eye. "Not a chance. No. You aren't going anywhere."
"I'm more use there. The five of you can handle anything thrown at you. You don't need me."
A hand closes on his wrist, tight, and Clint narrows in on him. "You think we would've come out the backend of Loki's war without Hulk there? We would've been pulp, and there wouldn't be any safe place for you to run back to. We need him here. Bruce, we need you here. You're a part of this family now, you're not walking away just because someone shoved a camera in your face."
The Other Guy huffs, but quietens down at the notion of being needed. A warmth ebbs into his blood, and he smiles absent-mindedly. Hulk likes it here. Not leave.
"Indeed, Brother Banner, you are one of us!" Thor claps him on the back, hard enough to leave a red handprint. The Other Guy likes Thor. Whenever the asgardian smacks him in that friendly manner, Hulk just grunts in contentment.
In fact, strange as it seems, The Other Guy likes them all. Would save all their lives if the need arose. It's madness, crazy as a bag of cats, with insanity sprinkled on top, that the six of them make such perfect sense as a family. And here they are, making it work, talking him back off the plane to the ass-end of nowhere.
"Well," he mutters, "I don't really know if I could say no to that."
"Good, because I'd hate to have to tie you up," Clint comments brusquely, releasing Bruce's wrist and crossing his arms. "If you try to leave, we are all coming after you. Remember that."
Tony burst in through the door then, tablet in hand, waving it madly, "Who punched the cameraman? Seriously, guys, Fury is convinced it was me, and he's sent Coulson to arrest me!"
Coulson follows him in. The agent rolls his eyes as Tony dashes away and hides behind Thor. "I'm not here to arrest you. I came to check that you are all okay. SHIELD has dealt with the PR side of things. Natasha?"
Wordlessly, she hands over the cameraman's SD card. Coulson slides it into his pocket. He's about to leave when they wrangle him back and hand him pizza and beer. Thor is trying to shove the entire piece of pizza down his throat in one go, Bruce realises with a laugh. When he's succeeded, he begins ranting about the lack of Asgardian feasts. Natasha and Clint are arguing about anchovies. Any second now, Clint is going to throw one at her, Bruce can feel it. There's an ever-present smirk on Tony's face, and he's chatting to Phil about the Mark 10 prototype suit.
Steve bustles in with another pizza, and as he passes Bruce he squeezes the doctor's shoulder. "Good to see you're still with us, doctor Banner."
Bruce grins at them all, swallows his mouthful of pizza, and thinks Where would I go when I already have all this?