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My Dark Sun

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"Remember, as long as the sunshine promises to fills the sky, I'll always promise to be with you. As you will be with me. You're my little sunshine, I love you darling." A kiss and hug later the comforting voice disappears into the darkness.

The small boy lay curled in his bed, covers wrapped tightly around his quivering form. The scratchy cover rubbed sores over his arms and back and barely provided any heat in the chilling winter nights. The pillow was lumpy and gave even less comfort than the covers. The cold, damp room lay bare with only a bed and a small chest of drawers and a neat pile of books that lay stashed under the bed. The door lay slightly ajar, letting in a small stream of light that illuminated the child's tiny form.

His breathing was uneven and his eyes clamped shut, as if trying to avoid a nightmare. His dark hair plastered to his face and neck with nervous sweat, the silence overwhelming. He was no more than seven, his eighth birthday a few months ahead. The familiar warm feeling of soft fur sat against his cheek and chin, a warm tongue occasionally tickling the tip of his nose. He yawned and turned round, quickly settling into silence. The puppy quickly jumped up and yipped before following the boy and curling into his neck. He had jolted away then once he heard it, dread filling him and the still atmosphere changing into that of a fearful one. The puppy whimpered. The sound of keys rattling in the front door, the door flying open and the thudding of muddy, wet boots and terrified hushed words. The young child had curled inwards and tried to block out the yelling and screaming he knew was coming, tried to ignore the sound of hands striking bare skin and the painfilled noises that would surely follow.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

"Please, you'll wake-"

"To hell! I won't let Howard do nought! I'll kill Stark before he can finish the damn form!"

The room filled with soft whimpering. The footsteps carried the familiar voice to the door of his bedroom. The slight noises quietened into occasional squeaks. Light suddenly ambushed into the room, momentarily blinding the child. Hands grabbed the young boy, pulling him away from the safety of his bed and the warm fur. Dragging him into the main room, he was roughly thrown onto the floor sharp stings pricked the child's bare hand and feet.

"Look what you've done, you monster!" the shadow of a figure loomed over him and sneered in a drunken haze, swaying slightly. A piece of paper clutched in his hand was roughly shoved into his face. The child lay stiffly in a small pile of glass and ceramic, every movement causing a shard to pierce his soft skin. The boy noticed an absence and scanned the room, looking everywhere for any sign of his mother.

You make me happy, when skies are grey.

The room glistened with glass shards and dim streetlight that streamed in from the doorway. Glass rained down onto the blood-stained carpet, staining over the caramel colour, from the flower patterned wall where it shattered from its former vase shape. Crisping flowers lay scattered over the floor, water dripped down the wall. The room was in turmoil: the ripped dark, couch lay on its back, shoved roughly backwards, elegant glass table shattered into a river of red stained glass shards, a pair of white doors that separated the kitchen from the main room had been ripped from the hinges and chucked to the side, a raw tattoo of fingernail scratches and claw gashes decorated the frame and surrounding carpet. Plates lay in various areas, shattered from being launched into the air from the kitchen doorway. Knives and forks littered the large room, sparkling in the dim light. Despite the chaos, the air hung frozen and silent.

The man grabbed the mould of even softer fur from the boy's clutches, who screamed in agony. He gargled slightly before throwing the small animal forcefully to the floor, earning a cry from the boy. The dormouse limped as quickly as possible back to the boy but was snatched into strong canine jaws as the boy was grabbed by his father. The sleek Doberman growled and pressed her dripping teeth into the mouse, cutting deep.

"Don't you ignore me, freak! Can't you grow up and stop acting like a lost puppy whenever she isn't within a metre of you! I always knew you would turn out to be a useless piece of junk! You are the biggest burden in my stinking life! I should have rid you from my life when I had the chance!" His father screamed a string of insults into the boy's terrified face, "Your mother was a fool to allow you to live! Should have listened to me, wasting my money and her time on you!" The child's stomach heaved at the stench of alcohol wafting from the drunken man's breath. The grip loosened on the boy as a small voice reached them and he plummeted to the floor. The Doberman still chewed on the shaking dormouse but lifted her head slightly, eyes narrowed.

You'll never know, dear, how much I love you.

Arms suddenly enclosed around the child, plucking him from the floor and into a warm, soaking chest. At the same time, feline hissing and teeth forced the dog to drop the dormouse and back away slightly. The man's head jerked up with a growl.

"Brian, please don't harm him, he is innocent! Please, I'm begging you." The quant woman pleaded. She slowly limped back towards the destroyed kitchen, her leg held at an odd angle. A snow leopard stalking protectively in front of her, herding the dormouse with his paw. The usual beautiful fur was filthy and matted with fresh blood and mud and supported a dusting of snow. He flashed his yellow teeth at the man and dog, warding them away. The drunken man ignored him and swung a clumsy kick at his jaw. The feline jerked back but the boot caught his nose and knocked him balance off. The Doberman seized her chance and leaped at the dazed leopard. The woman gasped as the dog wrestled the cat to the floor, cruelly digging her sharp claws into his soft flanks. Squeaking loudly, the dormouse raced away from the advancing dog and leaped into the sobbing boys grasp. The woman whirled round and raced out the ruined house into the cold, wet night as her husband staggered after her. She reached the end of the garden path when a hand suddenly latched onto her shoulder, pulling her back into his harsh embrace. She planted a quick kiss on his forehead before dropping him onto the snow covered grass.

Please don't take my sunshine away.

Recovering quickly from the fall, the child crawled into the thick hedge that defined the border of the garden. Two pair of terrified eyes peered out at the sight of the soaking adults wrestling in the thickly drifting snow. The woman suddenly slipped and crashed to the path, bashing her head. Within seconds, the man was upon her, hand clenched into a tight fist. He drove it down into her forehead, knocking her head back into the ground, the snow becoming an alarming red. The man raised his fist and struck again harder. The woman screamed in fear and pain as her head was continuously smashed into the slabbed path, a crimson trail of liquid flowed down towards the boy's hiding spot, merging with the snow and causing a confusion of red and pink.

I'll always love you, and make you smile bright.

Movement burst from the front door as the leopard dashed out towards the woman, covered in bald patches and gashes. A shadow descended on the injured feline, forcing him to the ground.

"Mordan, no!" The woman's eyes widened at the leopard's easy defeat. She turned her head towards the child as the man jerked his fist up once more. Their eyes met and for a moment they held each other's gaze. "Run, Bruce! I love you, my sunshine." She smiled tearfully at the child as the fist connected with her temple, her head hit the ground and became limp. Her gaze held with the child but no longer seen him. The leopard fell for the last time, combusting into a cloud of red and orange dust particles that rose into the sky.

"Rebecca?" The man looked around in a daze, and slapped the woman's face. He swore and spat on the blood covered snow before staggering up and retreating into the house. The Doberman stretched and lazily followed.

Bruce stared from his spot in the bush, tears freely flowed down his frozen cheeks. He jumped up and raced to his mother, gently turning her face towards him. The glazed eyes only stared into nothing. Sobs racked the small boy as he leaned against his mother's chest. The dormouse hesitated before licking her cheek and gently clambered to her lifeless eyes. She slowly closed the eyelids.

I'll never leave you, to ache alone.

"Mummy, come back. The sun is still here, why are you going away?" The child, with a heavy heart, understood exactly the situation. Bruce clasped her hand together over her stomach and kissed her dented forehead. He plucked a dying flower that barely poked from under the white blanket and threaded it between her thumbs. He rested his head on her painfully still chest. "I'll always love you, mama, because the sun is still alive."

Grunts made the boy jump up with a cry. The Doberman barked a laugh and continued to move forward. Brian appeared in the doorway with a lighter and bottle. When he seen the flower, his face turned red.

"You stupid sissy! What kind of weirdo are you!?" He dropped the items and lashed towards Bruce at the same time the dog snapped at his ankles. A sharp pain gripped his shin and he fell backwards. He glanced up at the towered man.

Nothing can harm you, my darling Brucey.

"Daddy, please stop!" He sobbed a plea and covered his face. The man merely laughed and lifted his foot over the child. Terror held the boy as he suddenly jerked backwards and scrambled to his feet. With a quick glance to his mother, the child hauled himself over the small gate and raced down the bright grey street. His bare feet throbbed with each pounding step. The dormouse squeaked and jumped from his shoulders, landing in the soft powder with a small puff of pale yellow dust. Beside him, the puppy ran now with the same terrified determination.

They ran for what seemed like hours until they could take no more steps. Together, they collapsed in a heap in an empty street beside a large factory. Soaked and shivering, the boy allowed the sobs to consume him. The puppy lay in silence, her breathing dangerously shallow. Bruce lay with his face in the snow until the beginnings of dawn began to show. Exhausted, sleep threatened to take the boy and he was tempted to let it. If it weren't for the arms that engulfed him and carried him swiftly into warmth, he would have surely allowed it to finish him.

As long as you stay deep in my heart.

Chapter Text

Need to keep going.

His filthy, bare feet pounded against the cracked earth, creating a drift of dust as he frantically raced into the darkness. His only comfort was the occasional brush of fur against his legs and the padding of paws that were as tired as he felt. The ground stretched for what seemed like miles in front of him, an ever repeating landscape of an impossible amount of dull brown shades. They all merged and blurred into the small stretch of desert that the terrified and weary man currently found himself racing across. He didn't know what country he was in, the time of night, the day, what month. All he knew was that if he stopped, he was better off dead. He knew they would stop at nothing to capture him, bring him back to the States, and use him to their advantage, as an experiment.

He had almost got a life back; living in slums, aiding people through illnesses of all sorts, and scrapping through an anonymous life. Running from his previous life, he travelled into the Asian landscape, casually working his way further away from America. Until they found him again. He was in a small town in India when they caught up to him. He had let himself become too content and had let the danger slip his mind. As soon as he seen the group of armed soldiers, all supporting the familiar logo belonging to S.H.I.E.L.D, an organisation wanting the running man, marched into the village in the dead of night, he turned tail and fled, grabbing only a few valuables from his shack.

His weary feet scuffed the ground and he tripped and stumbled. His skidded and he quickly hit the ground.

I can't.

A warning growl sounded not too far away from him and dripping fur collided into his side, reminding him of the rapidly approaching danger. He grabbed a mould of shimmering silver fur, the only thing he could made out in the absent light, and gently pulled himself upright again. He threw a glance over his shoulder but it was impossible to see anything in the pitch black wilderness. With a whimper, he straightened as best as his weary form would allow and journeyed on.

You must.

His bare chest and back was coated in a layer of grime and sweat, his feet raw and blistered. The remains of his trousers hung limply around his waist, one hand clumsily clutched the ripped elastic in order to hold the tatters to his skin. The other desperately held a torn wallet to his chest protectively. Apart from his panicked breathing and gulps of air and the occasional snarl or whine, the air was still and quiet. The night continued on, ignoring the fleeing pair's antics.

Can't stop.

Behind the man, lights suddenly burst through the night. They illuminated the dusty landscape and the retreating body. He panicked and burst forward, trying to create a mental map of his surroundings from the searchlights roaming around. The lights helped him avoid trees and boulders which he swiftly twisted his way around. A large shadow caught his eye as the lights swept across once again.

There!

As the searchlight began to creep closer, the man swerved and sprinted towards the looming dark spikes. The sound of revving engines grew louder with every step. He was close now, only metres away from the shadows. Thick tree trunks sprouted into sight. He barrelled into them and struggled through the undergrowth, darting from side to side as the light flickered through the wide leaves. He struggled onwards, every step draining him of willpower and energy. The swift feline form beside him lunged forwards into a bush with alarming grace and elegance. The undergrowth suddenly thinned as the man stumbled to a halt, the small clearing before him a series of black and the flickering white of an oasis. As quickly as it had appeared the distant searchlight turned and -retreated, giving up and leaving the man in blissful darkness. He sighed and collapsed against a particularly large tree. His drenched body quickly slide down the rough bark leaving cuts and scratches behind. With a soft thud the man landed on the ground and closed his eyes. He was panting and fighting for air. Exhaustion washed through his limps. His feet shivered as they chilled instantly, a rhythmic tapping against his ankles. His chest burned with each breath.

A soft thud sounded close to his head and he whipped his head round. Exhaustion and darkness robbed him of his sight. The man automatically began listening harder to the sound of heavy panting, sniffing slightly to the thick scent of sweat and fear. His hands fumbled as he rolled onto his side with a groan. His cheek brushed against wet fur and he let out a gush of air he never realised he was holding as a familiar purr sounded softly in his ears. His hands roamed the ground until he held a ridiculously large paw gently in his hand. The other hand soothingly stroked matted fur, scratching well known spots he was familiar with and knew the calming message it would send. The tired man closed his eyes with a sigh and lifted both handed to grab either side of the quivering head and pressed his forehead against the soft fur. A cool tongue glided up his nose and a sharp weight clashed into his side and held him in place.

"We're safe now, we made it." The soft feminine voice soothed the weary man further, he could only nod in agreement. The large snow leopard squeezed him gently in reassurance, her tail swirled the icy water lying close by. The man smiled slightly. That explains the sudden chill to his feet. With a moan, he opened his eyes and scanned the surroundings. He forced his eyes to focus. A low glow caught his eye in the near distance between the trees. Stiffly, he turned his head and narrowed his eyes. The light caught the leaves and illuminated their jagged appearance, making them unfriendly and emphasising the strange surroundings the man found himself in, quite unwillingly too. He shivered as he tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in his gut, pushing the memories he was running from to the back of his mind. As he focussed, lines and amber glows soon danced in his vision. He grinned sluggishly. A village.

"We need to get there. Shelter and food." His voice was raspy and unfamiliar. Probably the dehydration, he thought to himself as he turned his attention back to the clearing. He let himself slide back down the tree trunk he had rested against. He curled towards his daemon, seeking out her comfort and warmth. She quickly grabbed him with an agreed huff and let them fall into a calming silence.

Not too far from where they lay, the sudden sound of cracking broke the silence, a startling splash vibrated the ground and air, soaking the shivering man. A strangled noise sounded softly next to him and a heavy weight suddenly pinned his abdomen down, the warm weight against his forehead and side disappearing. He tried to move the large quivering body that landed on him, but it was firmly set. It was oddly comforting, soothing almost even if it was soaking from the large wave that engulfed them.

"Are you ok?" A soft nudge against his cheek. With a soft huff, he nodded before his hand dropped to the ground and he finally allowed his head to flop limply. "Bruce?!" The heavy weight once again shifted and lifted completely, a warm glow lighting his eyelids for an instant and he felt a familiar flicker in his heart, the swooping sensation of his heart stilling before racing back into motion, a feeling the man was very used to, before the night was black again. The man felt a tiny scratching against his cheek and opened his eyes. The once large snow leopard was gone, replaced by a sleek polecat. He lifted his hand to wrap around the now tiny body. She squeaked quietly and arched into his touch, twisting round in a tight circle as his thumb caressed her course fur.

"It's ok, we're safe Sunshine. You can rest." The man's daemon grimaced and looked down at her exhausted partner. She gently wrapped her tiny form around his neck protectively and pressed her black head against his jaw. All at once, the man smiled weakly as his body went limp and let the already dark world grow even darker until he was floating in a bliss black space.

 

 

 

Bruce stared at the window with a confused expression. He had followed a panicking little girl who was sobbing about her father being ill. She had ran into a small, messy shack and promptly jumped out the bedroom window, leaving the doctor looking stunned.

"For a man whos avoiding stress, you picked a hell of a place to settle." A slender woman sauntered gently into view from being a wall, a small smirk on her face. Bruce quickly spun round and sighed as he eyed the woman tiredly. He held a worn briefcase in one hand, the other held behind him. A small comforting weight sat on his bicep, hidden underneath his shirt and jacket. It slowly crawled onto his shoulder. He eyed the woman wearily and turned to face her full on. He dropped the case and twisted his hands together, suddenly anxious.

"Avoiding stress isn't the secret." He mumbled back, watching her smirk and move forward. A sleek feline arched round her leg, glaring at Bruce untrustingly. His coat was a beautiful golden with burnt spots, Margay, he thought to himself. He was the size of a large house cat, his wide eyes and big ears relaxed. He strutted forward, slowly and tenderly. He gently looked up and Bruce and paused. He flicked his tail as he continued to stalk forwards in a fluid movement.

"Then what is it? Yoga?" The woman smiled, and drifted around the room lightly, looking around and taking in the shack's shabby appearance. Bruce watched before taking a step forward. She wordlessly took in his worn clothes and ripped shoes before staring at his tangled hair. His hand snaked towards his neck, his nerves lifting slightly when he felt a small paw nudge him. The margay stalked around the room, looking uninterested. He cast his eyes over Bruce's form and bristled slightly. Bruce narrowed his eyes at him. The cat backed away, looking disturbed. He moved slowly, his limbs tense. Bruce looked up from the cat currently stalking closer to him.

I don't trust him.

"I assume the place is surrounded?"

"Just you and me." The woman smiled warmly with a silent chuckle.

"Who are you?" With a blink, he watched the cat return to the woman's side. He leaped onto a table and ran his tail across the woman's slender wrists. He looked around before lying down and locked eyes with Bruce.

"Natasha Romanoff, and this is Berlion." The woman stroked to the cat who twitched his ears backwards and flicked his tail. He continued to eye the nervous man, his glare softening. Natasha watched before pulling her phone out and slowly walked towards the doctor. She began to talk, slowly but urgently. Bruce wasn't listening. His eyes were locked with Berlion, both males untrusting of each other. Bruce swallowed as the cat looked him over once again.

He doesn't understand my absence.

Natasha glanced back at Berlion and then Bruce, a wary look set on her features. She glanced at Bruce's feet before launching back into her explanation, with only a raised eyebrow. Her cover shot back up, leaving Bruce wondering if he had imagined the odd glance.

"We need you to come in. The tesseract is in someone's possession who intends to use it against humanity. The quicker we find it, the better. You're the only one who can trace it, the gamma readings are too faint for us." Natasha spoke firmly but her eyes flickered slightly, confused by the daemonless man. Bruce frowned slightly.

"What if I say no?" He smiled for the first time. Berlion flashed his teeth and arched his back. Bruce felt claws nip his shoulder blade.

"I'll persuade you." Natasha purred, eyes flashing at the man who swallowed.

"And what if the 'Other Guy' says no?" He noticed the bristling of fur against his skin. Natasha smiled once again. She sat down slowly and exhaled.

"You've been a year without an incident, you really want to break that?" her voice jumped slightly, deceiving her stone glare.

"So this tesseract. You want me to swallow it?"

"We want you to find it." Bruce narrowed his eyes. Natasha smirked. She dropped the phone on the table next to the seething cat and folded her arms and crossed her legs.

"What makes you think you can trust me?" Bruce gently glanced at the picture before turning his gaze on the seemingly relaxed woman.

"Fury seems to trust you, and now he needs you in."

"In a cage." Bruce growled slightly. Berlion snarled silently, claws extended and ripping the rotting wood.

"Nobody wants you in a c-" The woman sighed, sitting up straighter and looked down at the phone. Bruce suddenly slapped his folded hands down on the table with a loud bang, his eyes flashing green and teeth bared.

"Stop lying to me!" He yelled, his voice strained slightly. Against his neck, he felt an amused huff. Natasha was on her feet in a flash, gun yanked from under the table and pointed at Bruce. Berlion screeched furiously, hissing and lashing at Bruce.

"I'm sorry, that was mean," Bruce smiled slightly and raised his hand in mock surrender. Natasha glared, her breathing slightly uneven. She slowly lowered the gun after a few seconds and raised her hand to her ear.

"Stand down. We've good here." She shakily spoke and glared at Bruce who raised an amused eyebrow. She looked down at her daemon.

"Just you and me." He taunted slightly with a tug at the corner of his mouth. Natasha looked up and for the first time looked lost for words. He offered a small apologetic smile which she blinked at.

Well this will be interesting.

Within hours, Bruce and Natasha were aboard an aircraft and speeding towards America. Bruce had been allocated a 'room' for the duration of the flight which he currently lay in, sprawled across the soft bed. It wasn't really a room, just a small cupboard –like room that was at the rear of the aircraft.

After he agreed to comply with the spy's request, he was quickly escorted into the nearby field where the aircraft stood. Natasha walked beside him, the pair surrounded in a circle of armed guards. He had boarded easily, much to the surprise of the guards and spy. Berlion had followed behind, occasionally darting forward and snapping at Bruce's ankles as he sped past. The jet looked small at first but once they had boarded, he realised it was bigger than he had thought. Natasha had stiffly showed him the room before striding towards the control room, wordlessly. Berlion hissed once last time before following, tail swishing furiously. Bruce has shook his head, women.

The room he was bundled into was tiny, barely fitting a single bed, beside table and lamp. A small mirror hung at an odd angle over the table and a collection of essentials sat in a box. The floor space was even worse, he had to sidestep to get from the bed to the door. The walls were a rusty red colour, looking worryingly like dried blood. The tired man lay with a large tablet in his hands. He flicked his finger across the screen, bored of the information he was commanded to read by the spy as it would 'help make sense of the ordeal'. He rolled his eyes as he flipped from a profile of Natasha to himself. He quickly dropped the tablet onto the bed with a dark chuckle. Not much point of reading his own file, he humourlessly huffed silently.

"Well isn't this nice." Bruce was broken from his thoughts as a small shadow darted across his vision. He glanced over.

"Fernanda, leave that." Bruce sat up and sighed as she pawed a lamp, clumsily shoved in the corner of the room beside the small table. The small polecat looked up with a pout and leaped onto Bruce's lap. She curled her back against his stomach as he gently scratched her ears. She purred slightly. Bruce smiled. She was beautiful, her glossy chocolate fur shone in the light. Two stripes curled from her forehead round her cheek and joining to colour her muzzle a pale cream shade. Bruce used to tease her about how similar the tips of the arches looked like eyebrows. Her black eyes gleamed as she met Bruce's gaze. He chuckled and rubbed her chin.

"Spoilsport." She fondly laughed and rubbed her side against his hand.

"I'm surprised you didn't lash at Berlion earlier." She puffed, annoyed. Bruce laughed loudly.

"Oh you don't know how much I wanted to wipe that smug look of his face." She hissed slightly before sighing. Her paws curled and stretched as Bruce massaged her fur, her black-tipped tail flicking occasionally. She lay down and sighed contently. Bruce lifted her as he lay back down and gently placed her on his chest where she happily snuggled.

"Fern?" Bruce broke the silence. The polecat lifted her head and looked at her partner. She twitched her ears with a yawn. She raised an amused eyebrow as Bruce tilted his head to look at her.

"What now, sport?"

"Do you think Natasha thinks I'm soulless?" Bruce swallowed and ran and finger down her back. She firmly shook her head.

"You know how the Soulless are. Theres no way she could have even considered it." They both shivered at the mention of the unfortunate section of the population. Every human has what is commonly known as a Daemon, human souls that take the form of an animal. As a child, a daemon switches between many forms freely, but as adolescence begins, daemons settle into one final form that closely represents their human.

"Its still possible though, that she thought that I mean." Bruce grimaced. Fern sat up and frowned down at him.

"Soulless people are nothing like we think. If a human loses their daemon," she gestured to herself, "they become mad, crazed with grief. They don't feel the same as us, they can't feel. They literally lose the ability to think and act like a rational human being. You must remember ol'Ben." Bruce winced. Daemons are only alive and connected to their counterparts by Dust. Not many people understand what Dust is, scientists have been trying and failing to understand it real purpose and effect on a daemon for centuries.

As a child, Bruce had been fascinated by the elderly man who lived close to his childhood home. He had a beautiful beagle who bounced around him as he shuffled around, despite their age. Bruce would often play with him in his back garden, whether it was grass bowls or card games at the table. The dog always made Bruce laugh, and Fern freely chased her in a haze of blissful excitement. She had been killed in a freak accident when Bruce was four. A car skidded out of control and hit them. Ben survived but his daemon died in a puff of light and a howl. Bruce and Fern witnessed the accident, and raced to help. The man physically recovered fully, but his heart had shattered. Bruce no longer spent his afternoons in his garden, the sight of Fern was enough to set him off screaming in angst. Often he was found screaming his daemon's name in the middle of the night as he wandered the dimly lit street. Bruce never seen him after he was moved into a Soul unit, a place for Soulless people to be cared for.

"I wonder if a daemon could ever be bodiless." Bruce mumbled to himself after a brief pause. Fern shivered and shook her head.

"You know its impossible."

"I know I know. Dust makes us settle, blah blah. A good job it done on us, huh? I still think daemons come from something other than Dust. Its too simple." Bruce grinned sheepishly at Fern who rolled her eyes.

"We're different. A daemon, but, can't live without their human. We can't even stray too far without it becoming painful. Come on Bruce, you know it's the Dust that keeps us alive and part of you. Whatever way it is inside you, makes us. Its like your own unique code."

"Yeah, I know. It's Dust that lets you shift. It doesn't explain how it didn't settle on you though. They said it was post-traumatic stress, but how did that stop it?" Bruce sighed as Fern jumped off his chest. Just as she hit the bed, her fur shimmered and she almost seemed to evaporate in a cloud of orange dust particles. Before she fully disappeared, she shifted into her other form. Fern, now a large snow leopard, grinned down at Bruce and lay down next to him. She rested her head on his arm and draped a paw over his stomach.

"Cause I'm the coolest daemon around." She smirked and yawned, flashing her teeth. Bruce twisted onto his side and stroked her side with an exaggerated sigh.c

"I don't know if this was a good idea. What is someone sees you? What if they catch us again and run that experiment?" Bruce suddenly tensed as footsteps sounded far up the hall. Fern tensed but relaxed when they faded. As Bruce progressed from his teenage years, people were fascinated and sometimes offended as Fern freely shifted between her two favourite forms. Bruce always found the reactions quite amusing and dramatic, but when he began working with Betty and General Ross, things began to take a turn for the worse. After the Hulk accident, Ross became obsessed with Bruce's situation and his transformations. When he realised Fern was almost completely unaffected by the change in Bruce, he began experimenting and studying the unfortunate pair. They both escaped eventually and fled.

"They won't. We can't be the only ones unsettled, I'm sure of it. They're has to be others. Anyway, they seem to desperately need your help. Once you've found this cube, we'll be able to leave again." She gently cupped his face with her ridiculously large paws and bashed one against his head before licking his cheek and nuzzled him lovingly.

"You're right. Man, I think I'd go nuts without you." Bruce sighed and nuzzled her back, wrapping her into his arms.

"Of course you would, Sport." Fern laughed softly and leaned into him. Bruce smiled and closed his eyes. The pair settled into the blissful darkness, the candle, previously flickering brightly on the table in place of the lamp, had long burnt out. Within minutes, man and daemon were fast asleep, wrapped in each other's embrace, and both completely unaware of how drastically their lives would change in the coming days.

 

 

Bruce was wakened to the bashing on the door. He jolted awake, heart pounding and frantically clamoured out of bed. Fern had darted off the bed and flew under the table, shifting into her more concealing form. The offending noise suddenly stopped and he heard a thud and yelp, followed by hushed voices before silence. He hunched over and closed his eyes, breathing deeply to calm himself down. The room became silent, much to the pair's relief.

"Banner?" A quieter knock sounded the room, followed by a polite feminine voice. Still half asleep, Bruce frowned and stumbled to the door and clumsily unlocked it. Natasha stood casually, twirling a pen in her fingers. She looked up slightly as the door opened. At her feet, Berlion flicked his tail slightly and walked in figures of eight around the bored woman's legs. He glared and tensed as Bruce emerged.

"Uh Y-yeah?" He stammered, blushing slightly at his messy hair and crumbled clothes. He quickly tried to smooth his shirt as he leaned into the doorframe. Natasha wordlessly handed his a fresh batch of clothing.

"We'll be landing in around ten minutes, meet me on the bridge then." She emotionlessly stated before turning on her heels and stalking away, daemon in tow and leaving Bruce awkwardly holding a pile of clothes and staring after her in confusion.

"Isn't she a ray of sunlight." Fern grumbled from behind Bruce, shaking him out of his trance. He stepped back into the room and closed the door with a foot. He dropped the clothes on the unmade bed and stretched with a loud yawn. Fern climbed onto the bed and inspected the clothes as Bruce sat down heavily next to her, dropping his head into his hands with a groan.

"I so regret this." He sighed, almost to himself. With a shake of his head, he peered over at the pile of clothes and pulled a horrified face. "Purple?!"

"I always said you suited that colour." Fern sniggered, pawing the deep purple shirt which was neatly folded at the top of the pile. Bruce glared at her and picked the material up and grimaced. He stood up and wordlessly pulled his worn tshirt off and replaced it with the brand new shirt. He looked down at Fern once he had finished buttoning it up, a questioning expression filling his face.

"Turn round, Sexy." Fern mockingly wolf whistled. She batted her eyes and smiled sweetly at Bruce who threw the dusty, torn tshirt at her, with an exaggerated growl. She laughed and jumped out its way. She rolled onto her back and stretched her short legs out.

"Well, this must be her payback for last night." He mumbled as Fern chuckled. He yanked the trousers on and fastened the buckle, strangely fitting perfectly. He gave his hair a few brushes, trying to tame the wild curly locks. He gave up after a few attempts of smoothing it down into place. He scraped his wallet into the large pockets and looked in the mirror once again. Fern yawned and groomed herself delicately. While he was tying his shoelaces, Fern excitedly peered out the circular window. She squealed slightly when she spied the landing destination and grinned at Bruce, who only looked nervously at her.

"Aww come on, Sport! It'll be fine. Nothing will happen, and it looks pretty cool." She sighed and pointed at the rapidly approaching landing pad. Bruce sceptically glanced at the window and gasped. He slowly stood and leaned over for a better view. The small grey patch expanded into a large runway, littered with similar jets and people flocking around professionally. Bruce frowned and glanced at the ocean only metres from their window. The jet slowly lifted as it crossed from ocean to concrete. Fern blinked as the large deck-like area covered almost the whole top surface of their destination. The only sign of a lower deck was the door sunk into the only raised wall acting as a fence between the deck and waters. The pair watched as the pad was prepared and the jet spun gracefully before landing, gently rocking Bruce against the wall.

"Oh boy." He took one last glance as the wheels were quickly secured and the wings began to fold down. Another jet close by was being tied down as well. He gently lifted Fern who slipped into his shirt, never taking his eyes off the looming building structure not too far away from him, understanding that that was where he was going to be taken.

"It's alright. Now come on, we need to go meet Sourface." Fern gently nipped his neck with a claw. Bruce snorted slightly and nodded. He reluctantly dragged his feet behind him, pausing to look back at the room before closing the door behind him with a small gulp.

"Didn't think you were coming." Natasha raised her eyebrow as the wary man entered the bridge, his eyes scanning his surroundings with an annoyed expression.

"And where exactly did you think I would go? I'm not one for swimming in the middle of the ocean." He half mumbled at the impatient woman as he stopped in front of her, looking across, bewildered. For the first time, Natasha laughed slightly and shook her head. Berlion rolled his eyes from the seat he was lounged in.

"This way." Natasha led Bruce down the stairs and onto the concrete surface. Bruce whimpered slightly at the swarming mass of people that darted across and around him. He swivelled as the jet began to close the door with a loud gush of air. With a shaky breath, he turned round to find himself alone, Natasha nowhere to be seen. Bruce blinked and took a step back, breathing deeply.

Nuh uh, you can't back out now., Fern huffed in amusement.

Since when?

Since we stepped foot on the jet. Now move it., Bruce audibly grumbled as he peered at the crowd of people and stepped forward. He slowly moved forwards until a group of people sauntered by laughing and unaware of the awkward man who shied back. He twisted and turned in a mad panic.

"Doctor Banner?" The man looked up almost gratefully at the sudden voice. He glanced around until his eyes settled on Natasha standing with another man. Bruce's eyes widen as he recognised the picture-perfect, ironically blonde hero. Captain America smiled at him and extended his hand out.

"Captain America. They told me you were coming." Bruce gently shook his hand. He coughed and quickly shoved his hands in his pockets with a small smile.

"Please, call me Steve, and this is Lelicia. I usually just call her Leia." Steve gestured to the German Shepard that sat peacefully next to Steve, a calm, interested gleam in her eyes as she watched men running past. At the mention of her name, she stood and turned her gaze on Bruce and smiled warmly.

"Pleasure to meet you, Doctor." She bowed her head slightly, earning a chuckled from Steve. She slowly looked over the man with a puzzled expression. Bruce twirled his fingers slightly.

"You can call me Bruce." He swallowed and averted his eyes as the daemon sniffed the air slightly and cocked her head. She suddenly stretched before wandering towards the jet behind Bruce, looking a little ashamed. Bruce frowned and looked at Steve who just smiled slightly.

"Word is you can find the cube?" Steve broke the silence with a small incline of his head. Bruce nodded slowly before swallowing and shifting his feet, his eyes darting around him.

"Is that the only word on me?" He drew the question out carefully, his eyes casting down as he did so. He felt a small nudge against his neck.

"Only word I care about." Steve blinked slowly and smiled warmly. Bruce watched him in amazement. He felt Fern shift slightly.

I like this one., Bruce supressed an eyeroll at the comment. Berlion, who had sat between Natasha's feet, watched Leia with a soft expression. He walked a little closer and huffed as she cocked her head. He gently began to explain the procedures and the function of all the equipment Leia was staring at.

"You boys might want to step inside. It's going to get a little hard to breathe." Natasha broke both men's intense gaze at the two daemons. She smirked at the blank faces and sniggered as Bruce jumped as a loud roar ripped through the relatively quiet air. Leia yelped and ran to Steve who was watching as men began to strap everything down and grabbing handles. The ground under their feet began to shake and sway slightly, Bruce stumbling slightly with a gasp. He quickly caught himself and shot a questioning gaze at Natasha who leaned against a large pile of metal poles. She gestured with her hand and yawned. Bruce and Steve both followed her finger and looked at each other.

"Is this a submarine?" Steve frowned as the trio walked in the indicated direction. Berlion leaped onto the metal pile, then Natasha's shoulders. He curled around her neck slightly, draping his tail across her chest. Steve dropped his hand slowly, Leia pushing her head against his touch reassuringly.

"Really? They want me in a submerged, pressurised metal container?" Bruce huffed in dark amusement, earning a hiss from Berlion. Fern sniggered gleefully. As they neared the edge of the ship, Bruce leaned forward slightly and his eyes widened as the two large fans came into view. The obvious source of the roaring, they spun rapidly and propelled the large ship out the water. As the ship began to rise steadily, Bruce whistled slightly. "oh no, this is much worse." He smiled, amused. Leia looked up at him, her expression unreadable. Bruce casted his gaze away from her, a twang of sadness rippling through his body. Fern reached down and placed a paw over Bruce's heart and licked his throat. He lifted a hand and scratched his face. As he dropped his hand, he gently caught her paw and squeezed, a small smile on the corner of his lips.

"This way, boys." Natasha, obviously bored, turned and started walking to the door. Steve turned his head to Bruce, looking terrified yet excited. The doctor nodded sympathetically and started after the spy. Steve and Leia trotting behind like a puppy. Natasha threw a glance over her shoulder to make sure they had followed.

Told you this is a bad idea.

Shh, I'm curious as to how big this ship is. Hurry up, Slowcoach., Bruce audibly groaned, making Steve jump. He blushed and ducked his head, cursing himself. He was going to have to be more careful. As they neared the door, all the working men seemed to have thinned out, disappearing into thin air. Bruce scanned the deck and frowned when he found no one. He turned back to the door and glanced at Steve who shared the same unconvinced look. Steve looked over at the doctor, who averted his eyes quickly, his cheeks flushing pink.

"After you." Steve gestured mockingly and bowed his head. Leia snorted and shook her head. Bruce smiled with a huff and ducked into the dark corridor. Natasha was a few metres ahead, leading the two cautious men further into the twisting maze of rooms and corridors. Berlion pranced next to her, completely at ease. Bruce tried to remember the route but was lost within a couple of turns. He sighed and dropped his gaze to his chest. He caught Fern's eye and they stared at each other for a few seconds before Bruce snapped his head up at the sound of metal groaning.

"Welcome to the Helicarrier, men." Natasha turned her head slightly. She pushed a button on the wall as she continued. A large metal sheet slid back into the wall, revealing a large room. The door led onto a small conference decking with a large table in the middle. Further into the room, stairs led down to a mass of computers with workers typing furiously. In the middle of the room, a man in a black outfit stood proudly, with both hands resting casually on two angled screens. Steve's jaw dropped and Bruce gasped. They shared a short glance before drinking in their surroundings.

Ok, maybe I did underestimate this place., Fern tensed as she stared out and swallowed slightly, burrowing into Bruce's shoulder.

You think?, Bruce swallowed as Natasha beckoned them inside. Steve almost tiptoed in, staring in awe. Leia's tongue rolled out her mouth as she excitedly bounded around the super soldier. With a deep inhale, Bruce rolled his shoulder slightly before stepping inside, as confidently as he could.

Chapter Text

“An army…from outer space?” Steve frowned from where he sat at the large glass table. Leia sat at his side, looking puzzled and bored. Natasha sat opposite him, Berlion curled on the table, his tail flicking occasionally. Thor, the demigod of thunder, had his arms folded and was glaring at the ground. Zacha, his daemon, was fluttering furiously. She was an Impundulu, or Lightning bird, a so thought creature of myth. She fanned her long grey tail feather and snapped her curved beak in the air. Maria Hill stood a few yards away, watching them closely, her lynx daemon at her side with a wary eye.

They had all just witnessed Director Fury speaking to Loki, Thor’s adoptive brother. Thor had watched, lost for words as his hate-filled brother taunted and threatened Fury about the infinitive energy source named the Tesseract, which he had stolen from them, and bristled slightly when he looked directly at the camera and mocked Bruce. His panther daemon was pacing menacingly, an evil grin on her face. Fern had hissed slightly but Bruce steadied her with a reassuring sweep of his hand. Fury was quick to cut the feed after that, the conversation shut down.

“I don’t think you should be focusing on Loki, that guy’s brain is a bag full of cats, you can smell crazy on him.” Bruce huffed slightly from where he stood, half leaning on a chair. He felt a small, amused gush of air on his collarbone. He was on edge, and irritated. They both could feel the rumbling from the beast in the back of his head; Fern gently rubbing herself against his neck as far up as she dared.

“Have care how you speak! Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard, and my brother. I would not comment on crazy in your situation, Banner.” Bruce frowned slightly as Thor growled at him over the table, his daemon squawking and seeming to crackling with static energy as she glared at him. Fern’s claws dug into him as Bruce stared back, unmoving and refusing to back down, blood boiling slightly at the insult.

“Thor. He killed eighty people in two days.” Natasha sighed from the table, sounded almost tired of the conversation. She was flicking Berlion’s tail around aimlessly, looking threatening as she did. Thor stopped and looked down at her, a sad expression crossing his features.

“He’s adopted.” Thor sighed with a small shake of his head. He glanced at Bruce but never said anything. Zacha ruffled her feathers slightly and gently pecked Thor’s ear. Bruce rolled his eyes and once again felt the heated stare from the demigod.

Be careful, Sport., Its not his fault, Fern gently nipped him.

No, its his brothers., Bruce sighed inwardly. “What do they need the Iridium for?” Bruce almost mumbled to Fern, but the rest of the room heard. Steve, a hand on Leia’s head, looked up as if about to speak, but the words never left his mouth. Bruce suddenly became aware of a new presence in the room and tensed, looking around. Two figures were casually sauntering down the hallway Bruce and Steve had initially been brought in through. As the room hushed slightly, two men appeared, deep in conversation. Bruce instantly recognised one as the famous Tony Stark.

“Its a stabilising agent. Portal won’t collapse in on itself like it did back at S.H.I.E.L.D.” Tony strolled into the room, splitting from Agent Coulson and taking the floor. His husky daemon paced beside him, tail comfortably wavering. “Also means the portal can open wide and stay open as long as Loki wants.” Tony stopped at the large monitors curving up from the floor. Bruce almost smirked when he suddenly pointed at a man on the bridge and accused him of playing Galaga, Steve looking over in complete confusion. He felt a little bit of sympathy for the soldier, understanding the feeling of not belonging and being out of touch.

Stop the pity party, Sport., Fern chuckled and flicked her tail against his shoulder.

“The rest of the raw materials Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily.” Bruce noted the way Natasha minutely flinched at the mention of her partner, Berlion’s lips twitching.

“Does Loki need any particular type of power source for this?” Steve looked up, uncertain of his words. Leia watched Tony’s daemon intently.

“He’d have to heat the cube to twenty million Kelvin just to break the Coulomb barrier.” Bruce glanced at Thor who was lost in his thoughts again, not partying to the conversation anymore. Steve frowned up at Bruce, not understanding.

“Unless Selvig had figured out how to stabilise the quantum tunnelling effect.” Tony nodded over at Bruce who scoffed slightly.

“If he could do that he could achieve heavy ion fusion at any reactor on the planet.” He shuddered slightly, not wanting to think of the outcome.

“Finally! Someone who speaks English.” Tony grinned as he strode forwards, hand flashing out. “Its good to meet you, Dr. Banner.” He slowly took the offered hand and shook, giving a polite smile. He barely heard Steve mumble ‘Is that what just happened?’ in the background. He was more focused on the billionaire who was staring at him with an unreadable expression.

Hes looking for me., Fern curled tighter around his neck, making Bruce blink and swallow.

“Tony Stark, and this is Akira.” Tony nodded down to his daemon who was looking up at Bruce, a sadness on her features. She politely nodded and smiled sweetly.

“Bruce Banner.” Bruce tried to ignore the stares that were directly at them from the rest of the room. Tony never seemed to notice. He paused for a few seconds before speaking again, full of charm and sarcasm once again.

“Your work on anti-electron collision is unparalleled, and I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.” Tony smirked slightly. Bruce done a double take, shocked at the abrupt mention of his alter ego, Fern bristling slightly in amused annoyance.

“T-Thanks.” He raised an eyebrow, feeling a small smile creep onto his face. Tony noticed, and clasped his shoulder and grinned.

I like them., Fern decided firmly. Bruce only sighed inwardly at her. Fury had reappeared by this point, and another bout of conversation started, but Bruce never paid attention. Instead he was focused on the soft, warm feeling of Tony’s hand on his shoulder. Fern edged closer and chanced a sniff.

“Dr. Banner is only here to track the cube, I was hoping you would join him.” Tony raised an eyebrow at Bruce for confirmation, and when he nodded slightly, Tony gently shoved him with a smile and gestured to the door.

“Shall we play, Doctor?” Tony winked cheekily. Bruce felt his cheeks colour slightly, but he smiled and led Tony towards the lab.

“This way.” He smirked slightly at the mixture of confused, and baffled expressions they left behind.

He’s a keeper., Fern sniggered. This time, Bruce fully agreed.

“How can he talk of crazy, when he walks alone?” Thor scoffed after them, waiting until they were out of earshot. Steve looked up, unamused. Leia flashed her teeth slightly and flicked her tail, unsure.

“We don’t know if he’s Soulless, Thor.” Steve warned at the same time Natasha hissed a soft “That’s none of our business, if he does or doesn’t.”

“You have seen what I have seen. He is spiritually alone.” Thor confirmed, stalking away in anger, Zacha taking flight and zipping in front of him. Steve watched him go, a lost expression on his features. When he had woken up in New York, he had believed for a few minutes that Leia hadn’t survived the crash and rendered himself paralysed with worry and fear. He only relaxed when he felt her reaching out to him and soon came barging into the room with the same terrified expression.

He shook his head, Leia nudging his knee in comfort. With a grimace, Steve stood and walked out the room and towards his room, needing to get away from everyone for a while, Leia hot on his heels.

 

 

“I mean seriously, can you believe it? Ol’ pops must have been living in a fantasy world.” Tony had propped himself on the counter where Bruce was currently scanning the sceptre Loki had been using.

“I’m disappointed, whys his daemon not a bald eagle? You know, with the whole freedom and American rights.” Akira was lying on the floor at his feet happily, occasionally sniffing Bruce’s leg. She raised an eyebrow up at Tony who snorted and rubbed her head with a foot in response.

“He’s…different than I thought he would be.” Bruce hesitantly agreed. He felt safe around Tony, which was an alarming feeling. Fern was on high alert, Bruce could feel her tail flickering in warning occasionally. She was relaxed however, in comparison to her usual. Bruce caught her sniggering or agreeing with most of what the Stark pair were saying.

“Pft. Different isn’t the word I’d use. Stuck up, ancient, Grandpa Rogers, has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?” Tony cackled slightly. Bruce rolled his eyes but couldn’t help the small smile that played on his lips as he continued to type in figures and equations. “So whats the big secret?” Bruce paused and looked up.

“Secret?” He frowned, heart beginning to speed up slightly. Tony gave him an unconvinced look and pointedly looked at the now wary Akira. Fern backed away slightly with bared teeth.

“Wheres your daemon?” Tony blinked and looked over his form, his voice unnaturally quiet and hesitant. Inside his shirt, Fern snarled silently as her claws cut into Bruce painfully, panic rising in them both. “Is she hiding? Akira used to do that all the time, well, when she was small enough to. Or he, I know it happens sometimes.” He shrugged, uncaringly. Tony stared at him, a flicker of concern lighting his eyes as he watched the colour drain from Bruce’s face.

“I-Wha-why are you asking?” Bruce stammered, eyes wide as he breathed unevenly. Fern bared her teeth and slinked around, restless and unnerved. Bruce frantically moved his shoulders and arms, desperate to hide any movement she caused in his shirt. Tony blinked at the reaction and held a hand up.

“Hey, calm it, Big Guy. I was just asking. We don’t judge. She or he’s an insect right? They daemons freak me sometimes, so small.” Akira had sat up by this point, staring intently at Bruce, her nose twitching.

“Tony.” She gently warned, a concerned look on her face as she looked between the two men.

“I-I’d rather not-g-go there.” He swallowed, trying to slow his heart rate. Tony looked at him harshly, and after looking at Akira, nodded after a moment.

How dare he., she snarled. Bruce rubbed his neck in an awkward manner, brushing his fingers under his collar and stroking Fern’s back for a second before dropping his hand back to the desk.

Calm down, he dropped it, that’s good enough for me., Bruce reassured. He was still trying to lower his heart rate and focusing on evening his breathing. Fern, can’t Akira sense you?, Bruce frowned outwardly slightly. He forced his face back to neutral when Tony blinked in confusion.

No, that’s why he asked. A daemon can only learn to sense another if they know their scent or have initiated contact. She’s done neither so can’t tell if I’m here or not. That’s why she was sniffing you. Sometimes its obvious you’ve been alone for too long., Fern sighed, shaking her head with a grimace.

Shut up., Bruce growled. He snapped his lips shut after a minute when he realised he has audibly reacted, Akira and Tony both watching him. He smiled awkwardly and averted his gaze back to his hands.

“Fair does. Oh well, you can tell me in Candyland. You would love the tower, you should swing by. We can have science slumber parties…” Tony shrugged and launched into a detailed description of his home, absentmindedly twirling a miniature electrical prod in his fingers. Akira had averted her attention, deciding to wander the lab and investigate round, but Bruce could still feel the confusion wafting from them both. Still, he appreciated the effort they both put in to change the subject, and for Akira’s interference.

“L-last time I was in New York, I uh broke Harlem.” Bruce babbled, still in shock at the daemon confrontation. Fern was still seething, and glared at Tony through the fabric.

“I promise a stress-free environment. No tension, surprises…” Tony shrugged, leaping off the counter and rounding Bruce. Halfway round, he decided to stick the prod into Bruce’s side. Fern hissed audibly and darted away from Bruce’s right shoulder round to his chest.

“Ow! What was that for?” Bruce yelped loudly at the shock and jumped away, covering Fern’s hiss. He turned to glare at Tony as he rubbed his side. He leaned back slightly when Tony leaned in, staring at him carefully.

“Nothing?” he asked, sounding almost disappointed. Bruce blinked, vaguely hearing the door slide open.

“Uh-w-what?” Bruce frowned, looking over to see Steve stroll in, looking annoyed. Leia stalked in front of him.

“Is everything a joke to you?” he glowered at Tony. Leia growled at Akira who bared her teeth. Fern slinked against Bruce’s neck.

“Funny things are.” Tony reasoned evenly, barely flinching.

“Threatening the safety of this ship isn’t funny.” Steve hissed. “No offense, Doc.” He looked over, his voice softer.

He’s scared of you., Fern blinked and rolled her eyes. What a baby.

I don’t blame him., Bruce shot back at her. “its alright, I wouldn’t have come aboard if I couldn’t handle…pointy things.” He glanced at the prod which Tony was still twirling. The billionaire grinned proudly and pointed the object at Bruce again, but not to shock him.

“You’re tiptoeing, Big Guy. You need to strut.” He walked round to Steve’s side of the desk, maintaining eye contact with Bruce.

Huh., Fern watched in surprise as Tony stood their ground.

“And you need to focus on the problem, Mr. Stark.”

“You think I’m not? Seriously, Cap, you’d think we were kids the way you speak.” Tony rolled his eyes, exaggerated. Akira was circling Leia now, occasionally growling. The older daemon watching every movement with an untrusting eye.

Bruce watched the heated exchange, dazed. Tony had stood up for him. No one done that for a beast like him. The apparent self-obsessed, volatile man he had been prepped about suddenly didn’t sound anything like the man he had been expecting to have dealings with. Sure, he was a pain in the neck and didn’t know when to stop talking, but Bruce had seen the kindness in his eyes and the sympathy when Fern’s situation cropped up. He hadn’t appreciated that bombshell, but the recovery Tony allowed was unusual; he could have pushed for an answer, but he had noticed Bruce’s discomfort and dropped the subject. Bruce realised with a small frown that he liked him, and that didn’t happen often. He never let himself build any kind of friendship, the Other Guy not the best for that kind of responsibility.

“What a jerk, urgh.” Tony grumbled as Steve stormed out. “Can you believe that? Threatening the safety nothing! You’re too cool for that, right?” Tony glanced over his shoulder at Bruce, snapping him out his thoughts. He hadn’t realised Steve had left, Leia following with her tail held stiffly from her body in anger.

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Too bad, I just did.” Tony shrugged carelessly and skipped over to the suspended screen and began to sieve through the information. Bruce blinked, hesitantly returning to his calculations. “Rage monster or not, daemon or not, you get the idea. I think you’re a pretty cool guy.” Tony smiled slightly, his usual air of sarcasm but Bruce could have sworn he heard honesty in his voice, and that scared him.

“I already told you, i-“

“Yeah yeah, don’t mention either of them, got it. A shame though, Jolly Green seems like a scream.” Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh. He could feel the headache starting. “Now, lets get cracking with this cracking.” Tony beckoned him over and wordlessly showed him the screen. It took Bruce a few seconds, but it soon clicked.

“You’ve hacked S.H.I.E.L.D?” Bruce’s voice was higher with surprise. Tony snorted slightly at his reaction. Fern smiled, amused at the casual shrug Tony offered.

“Did you zone out or something? Yeah, JARVIS has been running it since we left the bridge. Grandpops wasn’t happy about it, but hey, can’t trust anyone, can you?” Tony smirked playfully and returned to finishing the process. Bruce grimaced slightly. Fern huffed an agreement and pressed a paw into Bruce’s neck in comfort.

“Does Fury know?” he blinked at the taller man with a small frown. Tony shrugged, uncaringly.

“So what if he does? JARVIS will be finished soon. I don’t trust whats going on with that sceptre. S.H.I.E.L.D knows something we don’t, and I intend to find out.” Bruce watched as Akira rubbed against Tony’s legs soothingly, Fern also touching his neck in the same manner.

“You’re right.” Bruce nodded firmly. Tony grinned and began to instruct and guide Bruce in what he was doing as they set about cracking through the defense walls. They whole while, Fern softly watching Akira wander around looking almost lost, and felt a small pang of sympathy.

“What are you doing, Mr. Stark?” Fury glowered as he strolled into the room. Bruce jumped slightly and looked up, his glasses slipping down his nose as he did. Tony, from where he was propped on the counter close to Bruce, didn’t budge and continued to stare at the screen.

“Been wondering the same thing about you.” Tony looked up slightly before going back to the screen Bruce was also looking at. He hung his head over Bruce’s shoulder, making his feel edgy. Fern was hunched, frozen and inches below Tony’s chin. Bruce coughed and subtly shifted so his shoulder wasn’t under Tony anymore. He slid his glasses off and folded them into his pocket.

“You’re supposed to be locating the tesseract.” Fury evenly grounded out. His raven daemon stared down from his shoulder with her piercing eyes.

“We are.” Bruce growled, feeling the familiar anger boiling up. Fern quickly licking his throat and urged him to calm down.

“You’ll get your cube back, blah blah whatever.” Tony rolled his eyes dramatically. Akira sat in front of them both, huffing up at Fury’s daemon, Raav. “What is phase two?” Tony frowned at Bruce who shrugged. They both looked at Fury who only glared.

“Phase two is S.H.I.E.L.D. using the cube to make weapons.” Steve piped up, slamming a large gun onto one of the workstations. He glared evenly at Fury before turning to Tony with a softer look, “Sorry, computer was moving a little slow for me.” Tony only smirked slightly.

“Rogers, we gathered everything on the tesseract, this doesn’t mean-“ Fury turned, holding his hands up with a sigh as he began to explain. He was cut off when Tony jumped off the counter as the screen flashed and beeped. He walked round and twisted the monitor so they could see.

“I’m sorry, Nick. What were you lying?” he pointed to the monitor, now showing the secret plans. Bruce looked on in disgust, also rounding the table to lean beside Tony. Fern flicked her tail and huffed at the image, just as disgusted.

That’s inhumane, what were they planning to do with them?, Bruce frowned and glared harder at Fern’s question, and voiced it. Fury only stared at him, which Bruce held easily. He opened his mouth, but was cut off when Natasha and Thor suddenly appeared, both looking annoyed. Oh great, him again., Fern huffed.

“Did you know about this?” Bruce stood up fully, watching Natasha and pointing at the screen. She didn’t react, instead casually raising an eyebrow. Berlion sat down at her feet, watching warily.

“You want to think of removing yourself from this environment, Doctor?” Bruce blinked and firmed shook his head, feeling childish as he stubbornly stayed beside Tony.

“Calcuttas’ pretty well ‘removed’ to me, don’t you think?” he spat, his eyes flashing slightly. Fern hissed warningly.

“You didn’t come her because I batted my eyelashes, did you?” She smiled sweetly, making Bruce growl in rage. He swallowed and forced himself to take a deep breath.

“I not leaving because you suddenly get a little twitchy. Why are you making weapons of mass destruction?” he turned his glare on Fury who had watched the exchange with an uneasy eye.

“Because of him.” He furiously pointed to Thor, who innocently looked baffled.

“Me?” Thor glared, Zacha screeching. The bickering continued, Bruce continuing to grow angrier with each word until Fern was wrapped around the back of his neck and nipping the soft skin, helping him focus. He tunes the arguing out, closing his eyes with a soft grimace. He had to be careful, he couldn’t lose control up here.

Chill, Bruce. You’re fine., Fern purred in his ear. Bruce nodded almost to himself with a shudder. He looked up to see Tony and Steve glaring each other down, Akira and Leia snarling at each other and occasionally snapping their teeth. Oh, how I want to show her a thing or two., Fern glowered, staring as Leia threateningly thrashed her tail. Bruce agreed with narrowed eyes.

“No, no no, we’re not a team, we’re-we’re a timebomb.” Bruce shrugged at Fury, after hearing a small snippet of conversation, who turned towards him.

“You need to step away.” His warning tone didn’t faze Bruce’s enraged smile.

Ha, make us., Fern crept onto Bruce’s chest.

“Why shouldn’t the guy let off some steam?” Tony pfted, leaning on Steve’s shoulder who abruptly shook him off.

“You know damn well why, back off!” He almost shouted, Leia barking and snapping at Akira’s neck.

“I’m starting to want you to make me.” Tony grinned, looking equally as angry. He rounded to look Steve square in the eye, their daemons continuing to snap and nip at each other.

“Yeah, big man in a suit of armour. Take that off, what are you?” Steve looked Tony up and down in a very degrading manner. Bruce’s eyes flashed again. He hissed slightly, screwing them shut as he fought for control. He paused for a few seconds, waiting until he felt more stable before opening his eyes.

“What a team.” He sighed to Fern. Fury heard, and turned his glare on him. He looked harshly at Natasha who was looking uninterested, Berlion grooming his fur.

“Agent Romanoff, will you escort Dr. Banner back t-“

“Where? You’re renting my room.” Bruce raised an unamused eyebrow. Fern huffed a snigger.

“The cell was-“ Fury sighed, fed up with the tension and arguing. Raav was ruffling her feathers, agitated. Bruce gritted his teeth, anger flashing again.

“In case you needed to kill me, but you can’t, I know, I tried.” He yelled, eyes ablaze. Breathing unevenly, he barely registered the shocked stares turn to him, and didn’t feel Fern’s paw stroke his throat. “I got low, I didn’t see an end, so I put a bullet in my mouth and the Other Guy spat it out.” He spat the words out, glaring round, the hurt and shame shining in his eyes now. “So I moved on from it all. I focused on helping people, I was as good as I could be, until you dragged me back into this freak show.” Bruce was seething himself, glaring round them all. He vaguely registered Tony’s sympathetic and almost respectful nod. He didn’t have time to ponder over it as he heard a gun’s safety click off. He whipped round to Fury, who was looking with a partially scared expression.

“Dr. Banner. Put down the sceptre.” Steve mumbled, unsure of his words. Leia was crouching in annoyed submission, as was Raav. Berlion was crouching too, but in a threatening manner. Akira stood unmoving, looking torn.

Bruce., Fern whimpered. Bruce looked down at his hand in shock, where the sceptre was gripped. He looked back up, his eyes wide.

What happened? Fern, why did i-, Bruce swallowed.

Its ok, you just got a little angry. Nothing happened, its ok. I’m here., she gently reassured, relieved he was listening again. She rubbed her shoulder. Bruce shook his head and dropped the sceptre, staring as if it had jumped into his hand. He looked back up, catching Tony’s almost amused glance. Before he could react, a loud trill filled the room, a light flashing from the opposite side. They all tensed and turned, Bruce automatically walking over, Natasha following.

“Sorry kids, you don’t get to see my party trick.” He growled under his breath, Akira sniggering slightly, earning a glare from Leia and Zacha, who had stayed quiet the whole time.

Bruce rolled his eyes and read through the results. They were clear and had picked up a signal, some good news.

Maybe we can leave now, I hate it here., Fern curled into a comfier position, lazily watching the screen as Bruce studied it, barely acknowledging her.

Wait, Fern look., Bruce done a double take and lifted a finger to the area he was reading. Fern sat up and peered closer.

“T-the coordinates must be wrong, that’s impossible., she frowned, inching closer yet wary of Berlion and Natasha’s constant stare as Bruce analysed the result.

Hold on, if I check this one, it’ll give me where it-what?, he frowned outwardly and folded his arms.

From what that’s saying, the tesseract is-uh-twenty metres away?. Fern gasped slightly, feeling uneasy. Bruce glanced up at the window, only now catching the flash of black in the blue sky.

“Oh my God.” He breathed, startling Natasha slightly.

“What?” She pushed, stepping forward. Wordlessly, he turned to her and opened his mouth. Whatever he was about to say was stunned from his lips as the floor suddenly caved, the lab lighting in an explosive flame. Bruce yelped as he fell, landing hard on his stomach.

Bruce! Are you ok?, Fern frantically crawled further up, gripping him desperately.

No, he’s-its-, Bruce growled, feeling their connection slipping. Desperately, he gritted his teeth as he fought the panic and anger, the transformation beginning.

Listen to me. Focus on me, come on Sport, you’re ok. Don’t let him win., Fern pleaded, feeling a wave of weakness washed over her. She stumbles slightly and falls against him. Bruce’s hand grabs her through the material.

“Doctor….Bruce?” Natasha’s voice cuts through them both like an ice cold knife.

Uh oh., Fern grimaced. Bruce turned his head slightly and looked at her. Her wide, terrified eyes were nothing of the Black Widow. Berlion was curled protectively in front of her, but he smelled of fear too. Bruce screwed his eyes shut, his shirt beginning to rip as his muscles bulged. He growled painfully.

“Control, Banner.” Berlion’s voice was threatening, yet reassuring. Fern managed an eyeroll.

For once, listen to them. Come on, Sport, I’m here.

You aren’t, you-you-, Bruce almost sobbed, instead loudly yelping.

I am, I promise. I’m always here with you., Fern mumbled and licked his green tinted skin.

“I swear, Bruce, on my life that I’ll get you out of this, you’ll walk away an-“ Natasha cut herself off as Bruce turned to look at her, halfway transformed.

“Your life?!” he yelled, pained.

Bruce, please., Fern whimpered. His shirt suddenly ripped completely, Fern falling out and landing heavily beside him. Bruce managed to drop himself with her, shielding her from Natasha’s view. He screwed his eyes in agony as Fern let out a short gush of air. She reached a paw over and held his cheek.

“Bruce.” She whispered, not caring if Natasha heard. “I’m here with you.” Bruce managed to open his eyes just in time to see her fading, finally disappearing in a misting haze. His eyes teared as he watched, his heart shattering.

“No!” he screamed, long and angstfilled. He forced himself onto his knees as the transformation neared to an end, his mind almost gone. With one last effort, he sent an apologetic glance to the petrified agent and her margay daemon before he was lost to the darkened rage in his mind and everything disappeared.

Chapter Text

The first thing he became aware of was the still silence that surrounded him. Screwing his eyes closed with a groan against the dim light, Bruce twitched and began to stir. His muscles and body burned and ached as if he had sprinted through one hundred marathons without warming up. With a soft whimper, Bruce cracked an eye open and looked around, trying not to wince as his neck throbbed. He was lying, completely naked, in a large pile of rubble and dust. Opening his eyes fully and sitting up stiffly with a few winces, he looked round properly. He was in an abandoned warehouse, machinery and tools cast to the sides, rusted and filmed with dust.

“F-Fern…” Bruce croaked, gripping his pounding head. The panic rose as he scanned the surrounding bricks and broken beams.

“Bruce! I’m here!” the exhausted man lifted his head, hope and relief filing his expression. He all at once noticed the beautiful snow leopard, staggering slightly at the bottom of the rubble pile. Her dusty coloured fur was matted with dust and dirt. She looked up and frantically began leaping and climbing towards him, looking just as stiff and sore as Bruce felt. Bruce jumped into action and half sliding towards her, ignoring his screaming muscles.

“Thank God.” Bruce emotionally breathed as they embraced, hands gripping her soft fur as he buried his face into her scruff, breathing in her sweet, familiar scent.

“Are you ok?” Fern purred and batted her head into his chest affectionately. Her paws braced either side of his hips, squeezing gently in a makeshift hug. Bruce nodded, still breathing deeply. She lifted a paw and stroked his cheek.

“I thought this time…I-I thought-“ Bruce choked slightly, pulling her closer. Fern licked his other cheek understandingly. She gently shushed him.

“I’m here. I’m never leaving you.” Fern mumbled, a soft growl in her chest. Bruce stroked her nose with a small smile. Together, they sat there; man and daemon reunited. Fern shifted into his lap, curling up and rubbing close. Bruce held her tightly, as if he was afraid to let go.

“You fell out of the sky. Are you alright?” Bruce jumped at the new voice, Fern hissing fearfully and shifted. She slinked off his lap, now a polecat, and hide behind his leg.

“Y-yeah. I-I’m fine. Sorry, a-about the damage.” Bruce swallowed, swivelling to see an elderly man standing at the top of the rubble, holding a pile of clothes and looking partially concerned. He slowly and unsteadily climbed down the pile, in a very unusually smooth path. It took Bruce’s exhausted state a few moments to realise he had been standing on a platform and was descending down stairs.

“There’s no need to panic, Son. Bruce, isn’t it? Sorry, I heard her saying it. You and you daemon are fine, calm down.” The man smiled slightly as he reached the bottom, looking up slightly at Bruce and gesturing for him to join him. His Doberman daemon sniffed slightly before climbing a few steps towards Bruce, her expression soft and worried.

Bruce tensed, heart hammering. Daemon. He had seen her. Fern whimpered and back away, hissing a warning to the confused dog. Bruce didn’t realised; his mind was racing, images of past memories flooding. His Father, his Doberman daemon with her malicious grin and strong bite. His teeth sinking into his Mother’s snow leopard daemon; which Fern looked identical to. He glanced at Fern and felt a terrifying hopelessness enter him.

“Here, put these on.” A gentle feminine voice smiled down at him. In his hazed panic, Bruce hadn’t realised the man’s daemon had climbed to his side, and dumped the offered clothes at his feet. Fern was on his shoulder now, glaring deeply. He could feel her quivering form, tense and terrified.

“T-thanks.” Bruce stuttered, grabbing the clothes and pulling himself in slightly. The daemon only smiled and looked at Fern, addressing her. It was sometimes seen as disrespectful for a daemon to speak to another’s human without being addressed first. Normally however, it was rare for a daemon to speak to any human out with their own, usually only in intimate relationships; such as lovers or close family members.

“You gave us quite the scare, thought you were dead. You mustn’t be scared, no no. We mean no harm.” She smiled and nodded at Fern, who was staring in terrified disbelief. With a small gruff, the Doberman turned and gracefully glided down the pile towards her human, rubbing into his leg as they both looked back up to the stunned pair.

Why are they being friendly?, Bruce blinked slightly, stiffly pulling the jeans on. Fern sat up slightly, still shaken.

They don’t want to hurt us, we’re safe., She nodded a reassurance after a moment. Bruce looked at her for a paused second, before worriedly nodding.

O-ok. I don’t really believe that, do you?, Fern only grimaced at the question.

Bruce, they would have done it by now. If they were going to do anything, they would have., Bruce nodded, this time more confident.

Having Fern in full view to another daemon and human felt so wrong. He felt exposed and vulnerable. His mind flashed back to the last time Fern had willingly been in other’s presence. The day his Mother died. After that night, Fern didn’t show herself often, and preferred to stay away from other daemons. She never hid however, she only withdrew and refused contact. Her preference being to sit atop Bruce’s shoulder in polecat form in silence. She only shifted when they were alone.

When Bruce had been struck by the Gamma rays during the Accident, Betty and her Wildcat daemon watching with horror, Fern had leaped out his shirt and tried to lessen the exposure, shifting from Polecat to Snow Leopard. General Ross took it upon himself to figure it out and therefore experiment. He hunted them down, one hand poking and prodding for the Hulk, while the other cornered and experimented on Fern. He ran tests and theories on them, determined to work out Fern’s unusual ability.

Yeah, until he sees what you can do., Bruce mumbled bitterly, standing as he finished the last button. He stumbled slightly as he walked down onto the floor, Fern propped on his shoulder, looking around with her bright eyes.

“Didn’t think they would fit you until you shrunk to a regular sized fella.” The man weakly grinned and gestured to the clothes, relieved that Bruce had finally responded to him.

“Y-you saw?” Bruce hung his head in embarrassment and defeat. He however wasn’t expecting the man to chuckle.

“The whole thing. Big, and green, and buck ass nude. You were alone when you fell, but then when you shrunk back down, she just, appeared. Are you an alien?” he frowned slightly, not in confusion, but wonder and concern.

“N-no.” Bruce shook his head with a small snort at the same time Fern huffed a negative.

“Well, Son. You have a condition. What I don’t get, is where does you daemon go?” the Doberman barked slightly and nudged the man harshly. “Whoops. Sorry, sometimes I never think through.”

“Clearly.” The Doberman huffed, Fern smiling slightly.

“I-don’t know what happens.” Bruce shook his head as he looked at her. The man patted his shoulder, shaking it slightly. He started at the contact.

“Well what she does is pretty cool. Not many daemons keep that ability, you know.” Bruce’s blood turned cold.

“H-What-h-“ the man laughed and shook his head. He let go of Bruce and began to walk towards the doors, beckoning Bruce along.

“Ach, nothing to be ashamed of. It ain’t a bad thing, life happens to everyone differently. As long as she’s healthy, you can’t asked for more.” Bruce frowned slightly, nodding minutely in agreement. “You act like you don’t ever show her to anyone.” Bruce’s wince earned a sigh.

“I have my reasons.” He grumbled slightly. Fern licked his cheek and nuzzled into him. The man looked at him, hard, before shrugging and scratching the dog’s head. Bruce’s heart ached at the carefree gesture. For the first time in years, he suddenly felt a yearning to do the same, a hand gently trailing towards her in an almost unsure manner. Fern purred and leaned into the touch eagerly. He shuddered slightly, enjoying the open, warm euphoria that blossomed.

“Can’t be much of a life. Well, it ain’t a bad thing in my eyes, but I guess not my business. You got somewhere to go?” the change of topic was much appreciated by Bruce, but not so much Fern. She frowned deeply as she watched the Doberman, carefree and wandering away from her human.

“Stark Tower. No, I-yes.” Bruce grumbled and shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. The man chuckled and nodded understandingly.

“I’d expect some confusion of the mind at this stage, since your bodys’ all over the place. It has to be one or the other though.” The security guard gently smiled.

“I-I know where I can do the most good, its where I can do the most harm.” Bruce grimaced and eyed the security guard who looked thoughtful for a moment. Fern’s eyes were still on the relaxed dog.

“Well, that’s no different from anybody else. Only you know that answer, my boy. However, I’d say you know where you’ll end up. Less you would never have mentioned it.” He smiled kindly at the confused man. “Take the bike there, its scrap anyway. Supposed to be going to the heap in the morning so may as well use it for something good.”

“T-thank you.” Bruce didn’t waste any time arguing. The guard smiled and clasped his shoulder one more time, before slowly hobbling off, throwing a ‘Good luck, Bruce’ over his shoulder. The Doberman grinned up at Fern before trotting off behind her human, tagging swaying gently.

“Stark Tower.” Fern mumbled under her breath, tail flicking. Bruce blinked slightly and turned to look at her.

“What?”

“Stark Tower. That’s where we have to go.” Fern jumped off his shoulder and shifted. She spun and looked up at him, a determined look on her face. Bruce shook his head.

“We can’t, Fern.” Bruce slowly trudged towards the bike, actions still unsure and confused.

“Well why not? Lokis’ still out there, Bruce. You can help. I’m fed up hiding.” Fern growled and flicked her tail, stalking in front of him. Bruce froze, staring with wide eyes.

“F-fed up? Fern, it keeps us safe. You know what would happen if Ross found us again, or if someone else seen fit to experiment on us.” Bruce swallowed the bile that rose from the memories.

“Maybe, but not from S.H.I.E.L.D.” she stubbornly huffed and sat down, grooming herself delicately.

“Are you insane? S.H.I.E.L.D. is the exact organisation that would jump at the chance! You can’t be seen.” The man sighed sadly and slumped against the bike, falling to the floor in a crouched heap. “I can’t let you get hurt again.”

“Bruce, ever thing that maybe we should give it another chance? We’re living in the past, what about the present?” Fern gently reasoned, sitting down next to her human and leaning into his shaking form.

“B-but-no. I can’t.” Bruce whimpered, his head throbbing painfully with each breath he took.

“I’m not suggesting we just walk around like it never happened, but maybe we should pick ourselves up. He’s gone for good, and Ross is way behind us. I don’t think Stark would be too happy with someone appearing and basically kidnapping you.”

“Stark is only there for the publicity, not that I blame him. He doesn’t care, Fern.” Bruce huffed with exasperation.

“How do you know? He likes you, Bruce. Think about it, Akira spoke to you. There must be some respect there.” Fern nudged his shoulder. Bruce blinked and frowned, mind kicking into deep thought.

“I-she was only asking about you. Don’t tell me you have a soft spot for them.” He huffed with an eyeroll. Fern bristled and hissed, tail flicking a warning.

“No. All I’m saying is we need to start living again, cause this isn’t living, Bruce. Running from the past won’t get us anywhere, maybe we should move on and catch the future.” Fern shifted again, wriggling her whiskers before climbing onto Bruce’s shoulder and settling down; conversation closed. Bruce growled to himself as he stood, hauling a leg over the bike and wordlessly pulling away without so much as a wobble.

Fern had a point, but Bruce was having none of it. His father was relentless, and although he was locked away for life, he couldn’t shake the horror he brought. The endless torture of Fern becoming a chew toy for his cursed daemon while he crumpled and writhed in complete agony, her pain flowing into him. The biting and scratching had nothing on his father’s bare hand gripping Fern. He never listened or abided to the largest unspoken law; never to touch another person’s daemon. Occasionally, lovers may make small contact, but it is considered to be the worst offense to man and daemon. The raw feeling of being ripped open and exposed, the nauseous darkness and white hot flames that tore through every inch of him was something Bruce would never forget. Whenever he closed his eyes, he dreamt of that awful experience and feeling of dying without being allowed something as sweet as death.

It didn’t stop there, oh no. Bruce, after running from his father, began to relax after a few months. Fern seemed to recover from her assaults and settled in well with Bruce’s new life with his aunt and uncle. Fern stayed away from daemons, in the hallway at school preferring to perch on his shoulder and quietly watch, not caring that her actions earned the duo bewildered stares from teachers and pupils alike. General Ross was a different story however. Fern warmed to Kiaza, Betty’s daemon, quickly. She soon began to interact and behave more openly and passionately towards him, leaving Bruce’s body and happily engaging with the wildcat. After the accident, General Ross ordered their arrest, and detained them; Bruce separated from Fern. She was exposed, violated and tortured to the brink of death, Bruce watching and suffering helplessly from the side-lines.

They escaped, days before the Final Experiment, and ran. Bruce had heard the plans and panicked, his terror managing to break himself free and release them both. Fern, glad to be free, clung to Bruce like her life depended on it. Bruce didn’t argue and clung back desperately. All trust however, was gone. Bruce hid her from public, unable to relax with her in view, terrified of the same ordeal occurring again. Fern hid in fear, refusing to leave the safety of Bruce’s body even when in private for months.

Bruce growled to himself as they drove on, Fern still in view and looking at ease as they sped towards the city. She didn’t know what she was talking about, there’s no way she really meant that; that she wanted to stop hiding. Didn’t she remember everything that had happened? She wouldn’t be safe, and he had to protect her. They had to careful, if General Ross managed to get them, he would run the Final Experiment. He had all his data or whatever he seen fit to call results, only one thing missing from it.

Bruce swallowed as he dodged round a pothole. No, he would never let it happen. He would rather die himself than let him do that to Fern. Why would anyone want to-?

“Stop overthinking, Sport.” Fern yelled in his ears, struggling to be heard over the rushing wind.

“I’m not. I’m fine.”

“You’re such a bad liar.” Fern chuckled slightly, curling into his neck. Bruce sighed, a small smile curling on his lips. He couldn’t stay mad at her no matter how hard he tried.

“You’re worse than me.” He called back as they turned onto a main road, finally beginning to see and heard the city throbbing.

“Ha. You wish. Now come on, I don’t know about you, but I think Loki needs to be taught a lesson.” Fern huffed with a snarl.

“Easy, tiger. They might, hopefully, still have him contained.”

“With the carnage from the Helicarrier, I’m almost positive he got out. He isn’t called the God of Mischief for nothing, you know.”

“Unfortunately, I do know. I just hope Agent Romanoffs’ ok.” Fern only shrugged and slipped into his collar as they reached the edge of the city. Bruce smirked, a spark of relief, as he felt her disappearing. Maybe she didn’t mean what she was saying after all.

She’ll be fine., Fern licked his neck. Bruce didn’t respond, only slowed the bike to a halt and stared out into the city. Bruce?, Fern nudged him, uncertain.

“Look.” Bruce breathed, breathing uneasy. Fern poked her head out his shirt with a frown, which quickly turned to a gasp.

The city lay in ruins, fires and dust sprinkled around the collapsed buildings and toppled cars. Faint gunshots and explosions could be heard in the distance. Bruce swallowed at the derelict street, slowly starting up the motor again and pulling off, eyeing around the destruction.

“Was this Him?” He whispered. Fern batted his ear.

“No, remember that guy said you fell from the sky, so Hulk landed back there. He haven’t been near the city. No Bruce, this is Loki.” Fern narrowed her eyes slightly as she took in the ruined area.

Bruce nodded, half relieved through his bewilderment, and sped off again, dodging around piles of rubble and cars. As he neared the centre of the city, he could hear screams and strange noises, sounding similar to grunts and cries.

What is going on?, Fern had crawled back into the concealing shirt, but peered out the small gap at Manhattan, crumpled to its knees.

I don’t know, but we’re going to find out., Bruce gritted his teeth, slinking round a shrieking police car, breathing deeply. As he ventured further into the city, he became more hesitant.

Over there., Fern nipped his neck and guided his eyes over. Slowing the bike down, he approached a cluster of metallic corpses, piled around the group. Bruce watched as Captain America turned from where he was talking to Romanoff, Thor, and a strange man with a bow, and stared in disbelief, the noise of the engine cutting through the eerie silence despite the chaos.

“So, this all seems horrible.” Bruce dismounted the bike and stiffly walked towards them, as they moved closer to him. He walked past the destroyed shops and cafes on either side of the road where he stood, eyes focused on the advancing Avengers. Romanoff eyed him warily.

“I’ve seen worse.” She nodded slightly, whether in indication or greeting, Bruce couldn’t tell. Beside her, Berlion hissed slightly, but not with nearly as much anger than the previous time. Bruce felt Fern cock her head slightly and curl her tail in confusion.

“Sorry.” Bruce mumbled and bowed his head.

“No, we could use, a little worse.” She smiled slightly, looking warmly accepting despite the clear mistrust she had displayed before. Bruce frowned and inclined his head for an explanation, but she averted her eyes to the Captain.

Thor stood to the back, seething and muttering to himself. Bruce watched with sympathy as he cursed slightly, shaking his head and moving forwards to stand beside Romanoff. Zacha looked relaxed however, melancholic if anything. She was clearly in distress however, Thor looked just as disturbed.

Is that the guy she was so desperate to save?, Fern inched closer and dared a peek at the new face. Bruce didn’t respond, only looked closer at the man in question.

The man with the bow and arrow cautiously nodded a greeting. He was wearing a uniform similar to the female assassin, obviously of the same status. He eyed Bruce for a moment, sending a glance to his fellow agent and returning to plucking arrows from the mangled bodies strewed around, filling his quiver back up. On his shoulder, a bird fluttered her wings in slight agitation. She was a beautiful brown shade, her curved beak looking striking similar to a Hawks.

“Clint Barton, Repalla.” The man raised his chin slightly as he plucked the last arrow out and dropped it back into the quiver. He gestured to his shoulder at the bird who blinked at Bruce.

“Bruce Banner.” He smiled emotionlessly. His swallowed after a moment, feeling strangely rude and conflicted about not introducing Fern. He shook himself after a second, looking back to the Captain who suddenly lifted his hand to his ear. The Captain watched Bruce carefully. He stood in front of the others, Leia holding her head high in command, tail curling in dominance around each leg as she gently caught Bruce’s eye in greeting.

“Stark, we got him, just like you said.” The Captain spoke into an earpiece, nodding his head slightly at Bruce who felt a strange flutter in his chest. Stark believed he would come back? Why?

Told you he cared., Fern gleefully nudged into his neck. Bruce growled silently and shook his head.

He cares for the city, although I don’t know why he wanted me here in that case., he snapped back, probably a bit more forcefully than he would have liked. He gritted his teeth as he looked at the exhausted faces, suddenly feeling the enraged determination that each one displayed.

Shaking his head, he turned and looked back as Stark all of a sudden flew into view, a huge flying alien following close by. It crashed to the ground, rushing towards the group.

So, there actually is an army from outer space?, Fern poked her nose out slightly, knowing she was hidden by Bruce’s shoulder.

Looks like it. Which means Loki did get out., Bruce watched the creature career towards them, sending a glance back to the preparing group, before squaring his shoulders and walking forward.

“Dr. Banner, now might be a really good time for you to get angry.” The Captain had stepped forward slightly, looking mildly hesitant and dazed as he spoke. Bruce looked over his shoulder as he walked, giving a small, sad smile.

Are you going to do it?, Fern looked up at the fast approaching beast. She was hissing in anxiety.

I have to., Bruce nodded minutely, taking deep breaths.

“That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry.” He growled and turned back to face his target, setting his feet in place. He barely registered Stark flying past him.

Try not to die., Fern whispered, the horrid weakness beginning to rapidly take hold. Bruce nodded and started to let his mind sink and the green to consume him.

See you on the other side., he mumbled with a grimace. With his last few seconds of consciousness, he clenched his fist and hurled it towards the creature, feeling it make contact as he lost himself, once again, to the darkness.

Chapter Text

Bruce woke in a pile of rubble, a coating of grim and dust caked to his naked body. With a small groan and shake of his head, he allowed himself a few seconds to fully ‘wake up’ and let his eyes adjust. When he opened them, he instantly regretted it. He was in the middle of a road, or what used to be a road. Debris and rubble was everywhere, dust thickly hung in the air, catching in his lungs with each breath. Some buildings were unrecognisable, large sections having crumbled and broken away to leave huge gaping holes in the structures. Glass and various other objects were scattered over the ground, metal poles from streetlights and signs bent and disfigured in the chaos. Among the huge mess, there was no sign of life or movement anywhere around.

Close by, he noticed a pair of trousers, still intact. After a few surprised blinks, he grabbed them and pulled them on, feeling grateful for the soft material covering him and warming his chilling body. It was then he realised he was missing something.

“Fern?” His voice was slightly croaky, but much better than the last transformation. He always woke in a much better state after a voluntary transformation than involuntary. He heard a soft cough as rubble and dust shifted a few metres from him.

“I’m here.” The large leopard appeared, her usual silver coat dull and thick with dirt and dust. Bruce sighed in relief slightly. He knew she was safe, he would feel it otherwise, but seeing her always lifted a huge weight from his shoulders. “You chose the worst place to change back.”

“Judging from that, he didn’t have much choice.” Bruce nodded out into the destroyed street. Fern casted her wary eye over the scene as she gently brushed against Bruce’s bare chest. Her gaze stayed steady, but he felt her bristle slightly. “Where are we anyway?”

“Don’t know. I remember just as much as you, probably less. Still Manhattan I think.” She looked around, uncertain of the surroundings. Nothing was recognisable in its current state. “I found them not too far off, thought you would need them.” Fern nodded to the trousers Bruce had pulled on. Bruce sighed and rubbed his brow before sitting up straighter, nodding a thanks. “You look like hell.” Although she puffed as she spoke, Fern was right. Bruce’s hair was matted and clumped with dust and grime, his filthy bare chest in no better state. His eyes were dull and his skin pale and clammy.

“Yeah, well you don’t look any better.” Bruce glared slightly, standing up and adjusting the waistband of his borrowed trousers.

“That’s rich coming fro-“ Fern turned, a gleeful glint in her eye. She trailed off, tensing as she flicked her ears forwards and looked off into the distance behind Bruce.

“Fern?” Bruce was alert, ignoring his screaming muscles as he stood fully upright. He looked over the area, searching for what had caused the reaction. He looked back as he felt his heart flutter and just caught the end of Fern’s shift. Without a word, she darted into the trouser leg and clamoured to his thigh where she stopped and clung gently with her claws.

“Banner!” A voice suddenly echoed through the eerie landscape and a shadow appeared in the misty dust. Bruce watched in a mix of curiosity and exhaustion. Slowly, the wavering, black shadow turned into a running blue and white figure, holding a large circular shield. Beside him, a large canine shape lunged into view.

“Captain?” Bruce frowned, taking a step forward. Steve bolted into view, his suit ripped and tattered but otherwise unscathed. Leia skipped to a halt, eyes wide and fearful and she spun and tossed her head nervously.

“We’ve been looking all over for you. The Hulk ran off and we had no idea where he went. Are you alright?” the soldier looked over the man in mild concern, taking in his slumped position. Bruce waved him off with a small nod, watching the other man’s daemon in concern.

“Yeah. What did I miss?”

“We won, but we need your help.” Steve’s eyes twinkled in worry as he spoke, sending dread into Bruce’s heart. He held his hand out and only then did Bruce realise he was standing on an uneven, raised slab of broken concrete. He took the offer, Leia stilled slightly as Steve took Bruce’s hand and guided him down, waiting until they broke contact and beginning to twitch about again. Fern flicked her tail a few times, sensing Leia’s odd behaviour.

“O-Oh. Whats wrong?” Bruce swallowed.

“Its Stark. Hes hurt badly. Do you remember anything?” Steve inclined his head, quivering in nervous anticipation. Blood pounded in Bruce’s ears as Steve spoke, panic settling quickly over him.

“Uh…” Bruce paused slightly. “No.” he shook his head, clearing his fogged mind. “Stark. Where is he?” He had to get to him, if Steve was this worried, it had to be bad. Inside the trouser leg, Fern was twitching and hissing in panic, mimicking Leia’s anxiety.

“Come on.” Steve jumped into action and took off back the way he came, Leia bounding ahead with a short howl of angst. Bruce followed just as quickly, Fern’s terror gelling with his own and propelling him on, despite his aching legs.

Steve led him down a few streets, pausing only a few times to check Bruce was still with him before launching on again. Bruce puffed and panted as they ran, but he forced himself to keep pace. All over the streets, odd metallic creatures lay dead and slumped in various places, some with long arrows wedged into their armour. Bruce winced at the strange, defeated creatures before shaking his head. He mentally noted to ask about the fight after he had seen to Tony. Tony.

Fern, what if we’re too late?, Bruce whimpered as Steve veered around an abandoned car.

Don’t think like that., Fern snapped fearfully. Bruce swallowed but didn’t reply. The thought of being too late was too much to bear. To think back on how Tony had treated him, if he didn’t reach him in time… He clumsily jumped over a pile of bricks as he continued to barrel after the soldier. After what felt an eternity, Steve finally slowed slightly and turned his head.

“Here. He’s there. Thor managed to get most of the suit off him.” Steve gestured to a nearby car, a limb figure lying in the settling dust. Thor and Natasha were standing close by, looking unsure and uncomfortable. A little off, the archer Bruce had forgotten about was on the phone to someone, speaking low and urgently. Bruce nodded a little and ran forwards, landing on his knees beside the unconscious form without as much as a nod to Thor and Natasha. Beside him, Akira lay motionless. Her fur was tattered and ruffled, but Bruce took comfort in her ragged breaths.

“What happened? Is there any medical supplies?” Bruce asked no one in particular, checking his airways and sweeping away some rubble from his throat.

“Only what we could salvage from the crashed quinjet.” Steve jumped forwards with a small box. Bruce took it with one hand and awkwardly opened it, his other holding an alarmingly large gash closed.

“He fell from a height. Long story, but he was caught before he landed.” Natasha watched in slight alarm, Berlion flicking his tail and hissing occasionally. Zacha was standing close to Akira, having caught her when Thor, presumably, broke Tony’s fall. She ruffled her feathers and watched carefully as Bruce set to work on checking over Tony’s vital signs and injuries. He quickly patched a few deep gashes before tending to the biggest one on his cheek and chest.

“Medics are on their way, they’ll be ten minutes tops.” The archer slid the phone back into his pocket and wandered back over, eyes staring into Bruce’s hands as he skilfully worked. Bruce looked up slightly, pausing for a nanosecond to nod before ducking back down. “You need a hand with anything?” the archer bent down and offered gently, managing to look concerned and exhausted in the one glance. On his shoulder, his hawk daemon chirped in unease.

“I’m fine, just need to stop the bleeding before the medics get here, they have the equipment I need.” Bruce grimaced a little, feeling useless. Fern nipped his leg in reassurance.

“Alright. Here.” Bruce looked up, alarmed as a soft material brushed his bare arm. He looked up to see the Archer holding a shirt out for him. He took it gratefully and pulled it on. Fern slid up his body and took her usual spot on his shoulder once he had buttoned the material up. Bruce nodded a thanks before looking back down to Tony, who looked like he was slowly regaining consciousness. As Bruce returned to applying pressure to his facial wound, Akira suddenly twitched and yelped, eyes groggily flying open and glaring around. Tony was gasping, weakly struggling against the discomfort. Bruce gently grabbed one of his flailing hands.

“Its alright. You’re alright, we’re waiting for help.” Bruce gently reassured the two, watching in relief as Akira finally focussed on him and grunted a short greeting, her face screwing up in pain. “I know, I’m sorry.” Bruce nodded his sympathy to the daemon, feeling Fern moving at her discomfort.

I want to help, she sighed, watching the scene unfold.

You know you can’t, Bruce replied.

I could., Fern huffed, daring to inch closer to the edge of the shirt. Bruce coughed and rolled his shoulder in a panic.

Stop it! You know you can’t be seen!, he growled fiercely. Fern whimpered slightly, conflicted.

“Nrgh…” Tony’s eyes suddenly twitched. Bruce was at his head in an instance, moving from his chest to look at him fully. “Well this is an interesting way to wake up. Not that I’m complaining.” His usual sarcasm seeping through his pained voice. Akira stiffly pushed herself into a lying position and laid her head against Tony, who stroked her head.

“You’re injured. I’m not really sure what happened but you fell. The medics are on their way.”

“My friend, the Hulk saved Stark.” Thor smiled slightly, patting Bruce’s back as he knelt down beside them. Bruce looked up, bewildered. Fern edged closer, intrigued.

“What?” Bruce frowned, annoyed. This must be some sick joke.

“Yes it is true. Stark was falling and I prepared to catch him, but you reached him first and caught him.”

“You said the H-other guy ran off?” Bruce looked up at Steve, accusing. Leia puffed a laugh, considerably calmer now that Akira was awake and moving.

“He did. He let Stark down and then ran off.” Bruce blinked, not sure how he felt about this new information.

He saved him. I told you the Hulk wasn’t all that bad, Fern grinned to herself in triumph as Bruce swallowed.

A one off., Bruce mumbled back, unwilling to accept praise directed to his alter-ego. He trailed off as he looked at the daemon. Akira.

Hulk caught her, Fern suddenly tensed slightly, catching on to Bruce’s hesitation. He touched Tony’s daemon. He must have, because Fern wasn’t there to do it. He broke the biggest law there was; making contact with another daemon.

“My heroes.” Tony grinned weakly, pulling Bruce from his thoughts and not seeming to realise the big violation he had committed. His eyes, however, held something that terrified Bruce; gratitude and respect.

“Stop that.” Bruce scowled, ducking his head as the Archer frowned in confusion. “Wait, heroes?” Bruce froze, Fern lifting her head in surprise.

“Yeah, both of you.” Tony looked up, an almost excited gleam in his eyes despite the deep pain. Bruce forced himself to take a deep breath.

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He weakly argued, his heart stilling as he realised Tony’s eyes were fixed on his shoulder.

“Stark.” Steve stepped forward with a glare, Leia huffing a warning growl at the transfixed Akira. She was staring at Bruce too, a look of longing on her features.

“What? I seen her. What is she? Mouse? Gerbil? I couldn’t see her properly. Or him, that happens too-“ Tony rambled casually. Bruce wasn’t listening, he was trying to stop the threatening transformation. He shuddered slightly as he ducked his head, eyes closing for a second before trying to focus on something, anything.

“That’s none of your business, drop it.” Steve looked incredibly uncomfortable, shifting on his feet as he scolded furiously. Natasha was watching with slightly wide eyes, Berlion still and staring. The other two men were watching in mild discomfort, Thor more so.

Calm, Sport., Fern weakly attempted to help. She wasn’t as worried, a strange sense of excitement at the sudden acceptance.

“I swear I seen her! Why-“ Tony was cut off by the sound of a jet. It hovered for a while before edging closer and landing with a loud thud. People in white overalls spilled out the minute the engines cut and surrounded Bruce and Tony in an instant. Bruce wearily stepped back and allowed them to fuss and move Tony onto the jet and begin checking him over. Akira was carefully helped to her feet by the doctor’s daemons; all Spaniel dogs. One by one, they followed the retreating medical team and boarded the jet, except for Bruce. He stood and stared at the ground, eyes glazing over. His mind was reeling, Tony said he had seen her. Someone had seen Fern.

We’ve got to get out of here., Bruce shakily breathed. Inside his shirt, Fern licked his neck, feeling her partner’s nerves.

No, we don’t. No one believed him, they’ll just think he’s delirious., Fern slowly reassured. She peered out at the retreating figures, feeling a strange happiness settling over her. Now come on, in the jet before they get suspicious.

Bruce grumbled and trudged up the ramp, feeling uneasy and fearful. Inside, Natasha and Steve sat at either side of the small room, already strapped in. Steve was slumping to the side in exhaustion, Leia already lying down and dosing. Natasha was looking off at the medical room, as if watching what was happening despite the door being close.

Collapsing in a seat, Bruce let out a small sigh, feeling the relief shooting through his exhausted legs. He barely took in the plain, dull hanger, instead focussing on not fall asleep. He barely registered the archer walking into the room as the jet began to rumble and gently take off.

“You want anything to drink or eat?” Bruce took a few moments to realise the archer was looking at him with an eyebrow raised, his hand offering a bottle of water. He was still standing, his eyes darting over the other faces, directing the question all round.

“Thanks.” Bruce emotionlessly smiled and took the bottle, trying to pace himself and not drain it in one go. He poorly concealed him thirst, causing the archer to chuckle.

What was his name?, Fern watched him with a mild curiosity.

Get back., Bruce worriedly glanced around, however paused slightly and trying to remember.

“Clint Barton.” Clint smiled, either unaware or ignoring his discomfort. “I wasn’t sure if you remembered our brief meeting.”

“I don’t really, sorry.” Bruce smiled a little. Clint sat down beside him and shrugged his shoulder, the hawk jolting slightly but not breaking her stare.

“No sweat. This is Repalla by the way.” Clint gestured to the bird who nodded her head in polite greeting. Bruce smiled back. After a moment, she ruffled her feathers and averted her eyes. “Do you remember anything from the fight?”

“Not really.” Bruce shook his head after a moment. He never did. All he could remember was riding the bike and finding the city in ruins. Flashes of the metallic aliens replayed in his memory, but nothing significant. Clint smiled, a little sympathetic.

“We won, as you can probably guess. Loki had opened a portal, and all these weird alien things came out and-“ Clint launched into an explanation, which Bruce tried his best to listen to it. He looked over, startled, when Clint mentioned the Hulk punching Thor.

“What?!”

“Nah, don’t worry, Thor didn’t mind. Says it was payback from the Helicarrier, whatever that means.” He smiled, sheepish and guilty, before turning the attention back to the story.

Bruce didn’t answer, only offered a smile. He was too exhausted to do much more than that. The rest of the ride was a blur, Fern occasionally jolting as she slipped from exhaustion. Bruce lay his head against the wall behind him and took deep breaths, his mind still reeling from the close encounter. He really had to get out of here. Tony had seen her. It wasn’t safe to stay around here now, she would been in danger if Tony said anything.

We will be safe. Don’t make me say it again, Fern purred bravely, rubbing into his neck. Bruce sighed, and closed his eyes.

He seen you. I told you to stay hidden, Bruce mumbled back, fury seeping into his tone. He was just as reluctant to leave. He had grown used to being back in America again.

You’re not the one who has to hide constantly because of the past. He had just woken up, no one would believe him if he did say anything again, if he actually remembers. Look how Rogers reacted. Romanoff even looked thrown,. Fern hissed in anger, tail swishing. She dared to peer out Bruce’s collar at the assassin sitting across the room, polishing her gun.

And if he does?, Bruce paused, unsure now.

Then we can run. Makes no difference to me., Fern huffed. Bruce grimaced but didn’t reply. Guilt and confusion settled over him as he sunk into deep thought. The idea of running suddenly didn’t sound very appealing. He thought back to the carefree and open feeling he had experienced at the abandoned warehouse, Fern walking around freely, the general acceptance of her ability. If only it were that simple. On the other hand, hee had grown to like the makeshift team, feeling an unusual sense of belonging. The conversation between himself and Tony on the helicarrier suddenly relaying, the offer of Candyland, as Tony had put it. The slight eagerness in his voice at the proposal, the genuine confusion and, dare he say it, disappointment when Bruce had declined.

Could he trust them with one of his biggest secrets though? He sighed and shifted in his seat. He would decide when he had had a sleep, he was too tired to think straight.

Closing his eyes and leaning his head back, his thoughts drifted to Tony in the medical bay. Fern suddenly licked his neck as the image of Tony lying on the ground flashed through both their minds.

He’ll be ok., Fern nuzzled into his neck, snuggling close. She was tense however, refusing to relax until she seen Akira up and safe. She swallowed as she looked at the medical room door, feeling a sense of hopelessness and a strong urge to protect.

Both man and daemon fell into a restless sleep, unaware of the blossoming changes in each other. 

Chapter Text

“You’re doing it wrong, gimme that.”

 

“I know what I’m doing, Fern.” Bruce huffed softly, hardly paying much attention to the agitated Polecat on his shoulder. Fern gave a short growl before jumping off Bruce’s shoulder down to the table. She swiped a paw at the test tube he was holding in an attempt to grab it. “Fern!”

 

“It goes in that one! How many times do I have to say it?” She snarled, fur frizzing on end in her frustration. Bruce only glared, turning his attention back to the data on the large screen close by.

 

Fern, giving up on diverting Bruce’s attention, leaped to the floor, shifting midway. She stalked around, growling low and fierce. The large snow leopard hissed and snorted, in a deep foul mood. Bruce peered down as she shifted, but returned his gaze back to the screen, ignoring her antics. After a few minutes of silence, she lay down by the large window with a loud sigh, purposely moving as far from Bruce as comfortable. Despite their bond being stretched due to Fern’s failure to settle, she could wander further from him than most daemons, but they still had their limit, and when she went too far astray, both human and daemon would shrivel in complete agony.  It was one of the few unspoken, but absolute taboos; respect the daemon-human distance, however short or long.

 

Fern gazed over the busting city with a huff. It had been two weeks since the battle of Manhattan. The ride from the ruins on the jet was the longest wait the pair had ever felt. Bruce’s eyes were glued to the medical door, the slightest noise or movement making him tense and ready to jump to Tony’s aid. Fern had been just as agitated, wanting to know if the pair were safe.

 

When they had finally landed, Bruce was allowed in to see Tony, under the instruction of Fury. He didn’t know if he was permitted because of his medical expertise, or how terrified he must have looked; neither cared. The man was battered and bruised, but awake when they entered.

 

“If it isn’t my hero.” Tony had almost rolled his eyes as he smirked, but offered a greeting. Akira had given a small whine and wag of her tail as Bruce sat down beside the bed. She was curled up on Tony’s stomach, rising and falling with his laboured breathing.

 

“I’ve told you, stop it.” Bruce had blushed furiously, Fern squirming as well. “How are you feeling?”

 

“I’ve been worse.” Tony shrugged, giving a lopsided grin. Despite his pale face and gashed body, he sat up, albeit slowly and with a lot of complaining from Akira, and began to talk. Bruce learned Tony’s main injuries; a few broken ribs and punctured lung.

 

“I’m sorry.” Bruce had sighed and winced, knowing it was mainly the brute force of the Other Guy that had caused them. Tony, however, laughed and waved him off.

 

“I’d rather be a little uncomfortable than a splattered bug on a windshield.” Bruce had smiled with a splash of colour appearing on his cheek, relieved his friend was alright, and made small talk back. He was incredibly relieved Tony had survived. Akira was content the whole conversation, tail swaying and her eyes slitted closed in bliss. Fern was in the same state, purring in bliss as she watched the other daemon.

 

It was when the rest of the team were allowed in before Tony had announced it.

 

“So who wants to join me in Stark tower? We can work on the name I guess.”

 

“Move in?” Steve was the first to speak, his eye twinkling in either confusion or excitement, Bruce couldn’t tell.

 

“Yeah, Fury had mentioned we needed some form of base if you like, since we’re a team now. I have the room, may as well use it.”

 

Bruce, albeit hesitant, had easily been convinced. Fern had frozen at the offer, before diving at Bruce’s neck and nipping him. She squealed and shouted at Bruce, making the man wince slightly and gaining a headache.

 

“No. Thanks, but I’d rather not.” Bruce had disagreed at first, the idea of living in a hugely populated city terrifying him.

 

“Aw come on, Big Guy. It’ll be fun. Think of the science sleepovers and the parties. Although, you don’t strike me as a party kind, but we can change that.” Tony practically pouted, seeming to ignore the rest of the company and launching into a longwinded explanation of why Bruce should stay. Akira stayed silent, but her pleading gaze was on Bruce the whole time. He caught her eye at one point, and for a moment they stared at each other, before Bruce broke it with a cough.

 

We can’t, Fern., Bruce inwardly sighed, feeling a strange melancholic feeling wash over him.

 

We easily can, its you that won’t allow it. She wants us there too., Fern huffed, crawling across his shoulders to the other side of his head. She turned her head towards his collar as she mentioned the patient Husky.

 

Its not safe., Bruce swallowed, his heart beginning to tug.

 

Its only unsafe if you make it unsafe. Where would we go if you say no, huh?, Bruce had paused at that, the thought of returning to his original hideaways suddenly seeming incredibly repulsing. Being out in a third country, the other side of the world from here….

 

“I-I can stay for a bit, alright. Thanks.” Bruce had finally agreed shyly, a small smile spreading. Tony’s eyes lit up at his acceptance, Akira’s tail beginning to thump ecstatically against the covers. “I-If you’re definitely sure. ”

 

“Yeah, Big Guy, I am.” Tony smiled, eyes flickering around him before settling on his gaze with a soft smile. Bruce could have sworn his eyes lingered a bit longer on his shoulders, but before he could comment, Tony had returned his attention to the rest of the team.

 

“That is a very generous offer, Stark. I too would greatly accept this honour during my time on Midgard.” Thor had immediately accepted with a booming laugh and wide grin. He softly patted Tony on the shoulder in a show of gratitude. Zacha squawked and gently pecked Akira’s ear, who snorted and shook her head.

 

“I see what he means. It would be a good idea.” Steve slowly stated, but Leia gave away his eager acceptance, bouncing on the spot with her tongue loped out in an open grin.

 

The two agents took longer to agree. Berlion had raised an eyebrow, but hadn’t looked to disagree when Natasha gave a short nod of acceptance. Clint had shrugged, but soon agreed after Natasha had, Repalla fluttering her wings.

 

“Well it’s settled. Helps with the whole issue of where you guys would stay anyway. Don’t think your apartment will still be in one piece, Rogers. I don’t even want to know where you were staying Romanoff, but my tower would be better by a mile anyway.”

 

“You wouldn’t have lasted a minute in my old place.” Natasha deadpanned, but a hint of a smile was playing on her lips. As small talk and plans about the fragile future as a new team were discussed, Bruce sat back and felt a small flurry of excitement. It had been too long to remember when he last had somewhere to call his ‘home’. That was maybe a bit too early, but somewhere he belonged to sounded perfect.

 

Tony had been released from the medical bay the next day, under the agreement that Bruce would keep an eye on his health for the next few weeks. He wouldn’t admit it, but he was developing a deep soft spot for the billionaire and his Husky daemon. He wasn’t what he was expecting, the media portraying him as an completely uncaring, horrible human being. He was the exact opposite, despite wanting to appear hard and uncaring. Bruce had seen the small flinches and the worried gazes towards Akira, and to save Manhattan without considering his own life in the process? That takes guts, and a heart.

 

“He’s fine, Bruce. Stop worrying.” Fern grumbled, tail flickering against the floor as she forced herself out of the daydream she had just been in. The man sighed and turned towards his daemon. His dark eyes glared over her form which lounged in the sunlight, looking like a huge housecat.

 

“Why are you so annoying today? Whats wrong?” Bruce raised an eyebrow. Fern huffed a short laugh. She turned herself slowly before lifting her head.

 

“Can you blame me? I’ve been stuck in that wretched room all day for the past week while you’re out enjoying yourself. This is the first time I’ve actually been out.” Fern glared hotly at her partner. Bruce sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose, a headache beginning to form.

 

“I wouldn’t say enjoying myself. Its harder to hide you her-“

 

“What if I don’t want to be hidden all day every day? Every thought of that one? If they were hostile, they would have acted by now.” Fern jumped up and stalked towards Bruce, ears lowering in warning.

 

“It’s a-“ Bruce’s head snapped up when her heard the soft mumbling of voices growing louder as they approached. Before he could react, Fern had turned and dashed to the nearest desk, shifting quickly and squirming into a drawer and out of sight. It took Bruce a moment to realise, with dread, Fern had scrambled into Tony’s desk.

 

“Brucey, what you working on?” Tony’s cheery voice filled the room as the panicked man whirled round to face him. His blood ran cold when he heard the familiar voice.

 

“U-uh, just your blood levels.” He stammered, feeling at a loss without Fern’s comforting presence. He shoved his shaking hands into his pockets to appear more casual. Tony didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, didn’t say anything. Akira was eying Bruce however, her nose twitching as she sniffed close to him.

 

“Aw look at that, he does care.” Tony grinned with an eye roll. “How do you feel about a team building exercise later on? Cap thinks a fortnight is too long and wants another.” He dramatically sighed and shook his head in disapproval.

 

“Y-yeah. What does he have in mind?”

 

“Movie. Or board games. Still sticking with the traditional, old-fashioned stuff.”

 

“You can’t blame him, he still has so much to get used to.” Bruce gently reasoned, laughing slightly when Tony pulled a face. “He woke up in a completely new era, it takes some time.”

 

“Alright alright, Mr. Bleeding heart. Well, Cap said 7 in the common room. 6 at my floor?” Bruce lifted his head, a deep frown settling in. Why was he inviting him earlier?

 

“Uh, sure. W-why?”

 

“I like hanging out with my sciencebro.” Tony shrugged like it was the most natural thing to ask. Bruce slowly nodded. Over the other side of the room, Akira had jumped onto the desk’s surface, curling up into her usual position. She stretched her paws and yawned widely, her long body taking up the majority of the workspace. Fern curled in a terrified ball merely inches from her, hardly daring to breathe from fear of being caught.

 

Bruce felt sick. She was so close, she must be able to hear her hammering heart which mirrored his own. He willed the Husky to move as Tony rounded towards Bruce and slung an arm over his shoulder, turning the conversation back to the data Bruce had been previously analysing.

 

“So whats running just now? Fill me in, Doc.” Bruce forced himself to ignore Fern, trying to suppress the sudden need for her and focus on listening and explaining to Tony what he was doing. His mind and gaze wandered frequently however, the billionaire catching on and holding a hand up to stop him.

 

“Shush a minute. Whats going on? Why’re you so worried?” Tony’s brown eyes studied Bruce’s shifting ones. He followed his line of gaze of Akira on the table, lighting snoozing. “Is it her?”

 

“No, no. It’s nothing, just a little tired. Not entirely focusing today.” He grimaced at his weak lie.

 

“JARVIS, save the work. Go get some sleep before tonight then.” Tony shrugged slightly, beginning to shut the screens down. He rounded towards Bruce, reaching for the screen hovering above the desk occupied by the two daemons.

 

“No-“ In a blind panic, Bruce grabbed Tony’s hand to stop him, “I-you can’t close it yet, there’s still something I need to do. It won’t take long.” Bruce’s wide eyes pleaded with the surprised man who was staring at their joined hands.

 

“A-alright. Mine. At 6.” Tony softly nodded, an unreadable expression on his face. Bruce watched as he made a hasty retreat, Akira following stiffly. At the contact between the two men, she had bolted up, eyes wide and ears forward. Her gaze was focused entirely on Bruce, unmoving as she scrambled after her human.

 

Bruce let out a long breath once he was alone again. It wasn’t until he heard the quiet squeal of the drawer sliding open did he move. Swiftly dodging the counter, he scooped Fern up into his chest and crushed her into a hug. They stayed like that for minutes, both visibly shaking and on edge.

 

“I’m sorry.” Bruce whispered. He stroked her back with his thumb as she began to relax.

 

“No, I am. I pushed us too far.” Fern mumbled with a shudder.

 

“I was so scared, I thought this time…” Bruce trailed off, memories flashing briefly. Fern batted her head into his cheek and fondly licked his chin.

 

“No. We’re ok, Sport. One step at a time, I’m with you all the way.” She gently reassured, her previous foul mood evaporated.

 

“Y-yeah, one step.” Bruce breathed, his vice-like grip softening slightly.

 


 “Do I look ok?”

 

“It’s a team building exercise, not a date.” Fern laughed from her relaxed position on the bed. She lazily watched Bruce bustle around, getting himself ready for the evening. She gently groomed her long, spotted coat as she watched.

 

“I don’t want to look a complete mess.” He clumsily fixed his shirt before turning his attention to his wild curls. He winced as he tried in vain to pat them down.

 

“Like you always do?” that earned her a growl. “I’m kidding. You look fine.” Bruce stood back. His purple shirt was tucked in neatly and his trousers were neatly pressed. A few strands broken away from his black hair, almost tamed. “Told you that purple shirt was good on you.”

 

“Shut up. What are you doing?” Bruce turned his gaze to Fern as he sat down on the bed and began to pull his shoes on. The snow leopard blinked and sat up, blue eyes flickering slightly.

 

“Me?”

 

“Yeah. Are you coming, or do you want to stay here instead?” Fern stared at Bruce, surprised etched on her features.

 

“Y-I didn’t think you would let me come.”

 

“One step at a time.” Bruce smiled slightly, his lips a thin lip of worry.

 

“Bruce, you aren’t ready for that.”

 

“But you are. I’ve thought about everything you said before. M-maybe I should stop living in the past as much. Its not all about what I think, its us both.” Fern looked away, deep in thought. Bruce could feel her mulling over the decision as he resumed tidying his hair.

 

He froze when he felt the paws on his shoulders. He slowly turned round, letting Fern manoeuvre herself with him. On her back legs, she was the same height as him, their eyes level and close as they stared at each other for a few silent moments, before Fern lifted a paw and batted his head gently.

 

“I do want to come with you, but only if that’s what you really want.”

 

“Yeah, I do.” Bruce smiled slightly, despite the fear and dread. “but you need to let me get ready of we’re going nowhere.” Fern laughed at that, and jumped back down, trotting away and allowing Bruce to resume.

 

Lying back on the bed, the leopard sighed slightly and closed her eyes. She couldn’t deny it, she was excited, but could feel the lingering fear from her human, and it was seeping into her as well. Despite having connected mind and thoughts with her human, she completely disagreed on quite a lot of things; such as her absence. She shuddered slightly with a twitch of her lips as she thought over the past, waves of nausea and fear brushing her air of calm before she shook her head. It was the past for a reason, and she shouldn’t be fearing over it now. The present was what mattered.

 

Looking over at Bruce, she slowly blinked in contentment. She knew they were safe, as certain as ever, but she Bruce didn’t believe it. Fern couldn’t understand why he was so reluctant to accept that, it was evident all around them.

 

“You ready?” Bruce finally looked up and nodded towards her. Fern wordlessly stood and pounced at Bruce’s outstretched hand, shifting halfway. Yes, she may feel much more confident and comfortable in their surroundings, but the lingering worry clouding Bruce cast a small shadow on her.

 

“I’ll fix it, just wait.” Fern confidently huffed to herself as Bruce left the room and slowly began making his way to Tony’s suite. “One step at a time.”

Chapter Text

The suite wasn’t what Bruce had pictured it; massive and over-the-top. Instead, it was plain and simple. He gaped slightly as the elevator doors finished sliding open, propelling him to take a step out. Tony was nowhere to be seen, Bruce presumed him to be in his room still. The decoration was all cream and natural tones with hints of red and brown dashed around the various furniture pieces. Two sofas stood facing a wall mounted TV, with a basic coffee table in between. A few drawered unit sat against the wall with the TV, holding nothing but one photo frame. He couldn’t make out the picture, and didn’t feel like snooping, so he turned his attention back to the rest of the room. A small corridor, in an identical manner to his own suite, lead to a few other doors; the bathroom and Tony’s bedroom, both of which were closed. Adjacent to this was the kitchen. Bruce took a small step forward as he scanned the small kitchen area, holding the usual appliances, and a small table in the middle. The only way he could tell this was Tony’s space was the various Starkpads and devices dotted around the place. He shuffled his feet, feeling incredibly awkward in the silence and absence of Tony, before he felt a short nip on his neck.

“Stop being so shy, go sit down.” Fern scolded in amusement. Although she wouldn’t ever admit it, she was also nervous, unsure of what to expect. Unlike Bruce however, a ripple of anticipated excitement rolled through her often enough to overshadow the worry.

With a small huff, Bruce wandered just far enough into the room where he could perch himself on a seat, instantly slumping forwards and hunching his shoulders. He focused his surroundings out, and concentrated on his breathing and succeeding in evening his breaths out. After what seemed a lifetime, he heard the sound of a door, and the gentle thudding of footsteps on laminated flooring.

“Bruce! I thought for a horrible second you have abandoned me.” Tony’s voice filled the room as Bruce looked up. The physicist took a small, shuddering breath before smiling weakly, watching the grinning man appear. The soft padding of Akira caught his attention as she trotted in, tail waving and tongue lobbing out. Bruce gave her a small smile, Fern prickling at the sight of her, before he turned his attention back to the billionaire. He was dressed casually, jeans and a tshirt, but he still managed to look as handsome as always. Fern rippled at that strange, unfamiliar emotion that briefly flashed through Bruce.

“Yeah, I thought about it.” Bruce mumbled, rolling his eyes and smiling slightly, despite his nervous state. Tony always seemed to calm him down, a skill he wasn’t sure he liked him having. He quickly stood up as Tony approached.

“You wound me, big guy. Drink?” Tony suddenly rounded to the kitchen and began pulling bottles and glasses out, one eye trained on Bruce in question. Slowly, Bruce walked into the kitchen after him, trying to appear as casual as he could.

“I-I’m ok, I don’t drink much.” Bruce offered a small, apologetic smile with a shake of his head when Tony raised his eyebrow minutely. He eyed him, whether in surprise or disappointment, Bruce couldn’t tell, before he shrugged and poured one for himself.

“Your loss. Want anything else? Water? Milk? Fruit shoot?” Bruce shoot a glare at the last comment, recognising the children’s branded drink. He forced himself to relax, leaning against the counter for added effect. He looked over at Tony however, when he heard the soft chuckle.

“What?” he raised an eyebrow, feeling slightly worried.

“You don’t have to look so scared, you know.” Tony rolled his eyes, but his voice was soft and gentle. Bruce blushed slightly. Akira huffed slightly in amusement before trotting away into the livingarea, jumping on one of the sofas and sprawling out. Bruce watched her go, before looking back to Tony with a small smile. The two stayed in silence for a few minutes, not knowing what to say. Bruce eyed Tony out the corner of his eye, watching his casual, uncaring stance. He detected a hint of nervousness though, which confused him. He wasn’t the type to ever seem at a disadvantage, or feel out of place in any situation, so why was he acting almost shy?
Before he could say anything, a cold glass was thrust into his hand. He hadn’t realise Tony had fetched a glass of water for him, offering him it with a smile. Bruce took it with a murmur of thanks before sipping politely. Fern rolled herself around Bruce’s neck, trying to get as best a view as she dared.

“Well we have 45 minutes, before we have to go meet the others. TV?” Tony raised a questioning eyebrow at the other scientist, who offered a small, yet enthusiastic nod. Both men walked back into the living area, Tony starting to command and control the TV as Bruce sat down gingerly on the sofa opposite the dozing daemon. Fern eagerly perched forward, trying to get a proper look at the scene.

Fern, careful., Bruce swallowed, anxiously tensing his shoulder. Fern didn’t answer, instead rubbing her head soothingly against Bruce’s neck.

“Akiras’ taking up the whole sofa, mind if I crash here?” Tony uncharacteristically asked, a hint of shyness peering through his usual confident smirk. Bruce nodded, maybe a little too quickly. Tony smiled in what looked like relief, sitting down and began to flip through the channels, stopping on what looked like a comedy TV show.

“So you feeling better?” After a few moments of silence, Tony spoke up. Bruce looked over at Tony’s question. It took him a moment to realise what he was meaning; earlier in the lab he had lied, saying he was tired when he was worried over Fern’s hiding spot.

“Oh, yeah thanks. I got a little sleep when I left the lab.” He nodded softly, feeling guilty for lying. Tony smiled, seeming satisfied before he checked his watch. “W-what is this?”

“You’ve never seen the Big Bang Theory?” Tony gaped, eyes wide in surprise. Bruce silently shook his head, feeling Fern huffing a giggle. “It’s the best! You’re missing out, big guy. It’s right up your street.” Tony sat forward from his relaxed position, paused the TV, and began to fill Bruce in on what the show was about and the various characters.

Bruce listened as best as he could, but his attention was more focused elsewhere. He watching Tony’s wild gestures, smiling and snorting as he enthusiastically explained the previous seasons. When he started introducing the characters, Bruce’s eyes were drawn to Akira. Her eyes were closed, but looking at her closely, Bruce realised she wasn’t sleeping, more relaxing.

Tony must have known she wasn’t sleeping. Why didn’t she move?, Bruce commented to Fern, feeling confused. Fern inched forward and peered out, glancing at the other daemon.

He might not have, I wouldn’t think much of it, Sport., Fern rolled her eyes, but she continued to stare at Akira.

“So you’re definitely Leonard.” Tony’s voice drew Bruce’s attention back as he finished up speaking, a smug look on his face. Bruce had to think back on what he was saying earlier before he realised what he was meaning.

“Why do I remind you of him?” Bruce frowned, looking at the paused screen, “which one is him?”

“The one with the glasses.” Tony sniggered, pointing to the side of the screen. Bruce blinked, he did look a little like him in a way. “And I’m Sheldon, except not as awkward and weird. He has no social skills, which obviously I do, and I’m way more attractive-hey, I’m a mixture between Penny and Sheldon.” Tony mused with a snort, looking over at Bruce who supported a lost expression.

“Penny? Didn’t you say Penny and Leonard were dating?” Bruce raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah they do for the first few seasons, think they actually got engaged at one point too.” Tony shrugged, pressing the play button and sitting back as the show continued playing. Fern stopped peering at Akira and curled round Bruce neck at the last statement, a small spark of confusion and annoyance running through her.

“We’re not dating, Tony.” Bruce never noticed his daemon’s discomfort as he turned his attention back to the screen with a small chuckle. Tony didn’t respond, merely curling his legs underneath him.

They sat in a now comfortable silence as the episode played. Fern relaxed enough to doze off as Bruce sank further into the sofa, all previous nerves forgotten about. Halfway through, Akira jumped off the other sofa and padded over, leaping into Tony’s lap and settling down, her tail brushing Bruce’s thigh as she did so. Bruce didn’t feel the soft hair, completely engrossed in the show. Fern however lifted her head with a sharp intake, unsure of how to feel at the sudden contact.

Must have been a mistake, she shook her head as she settled back down. Fern dozed as the two men watched the show, jolting awake whenever Bruce chuckled or snorted at a joke. She was so relaxed she barely registered Bruce shifting as the couch suddenly moved. It wasn’t until he turned his head that she opened her eyes and began listening.

“Bathroom.” Tony’s voice was muffled and distant. She heard him disappearing and the room falling silent except for the droning of the TV. Feeling slightly uneasy, she crept forward towards the edge of Bruce’s shirt collar, daring to peer her whiskers out. From her angle, she could make out the unmistakable silver fur of Akira, inches from Bruce.

Why is she here?, Bruce swallowed.

Fern didn’t answer, instead nudging her head into his throat, and peering further out the shirt. She was lounging contently, tail occasionally twitching. Her eyes were closed but Fern knew she wasn’t sleeping. It was incredibly rare for a daemon to stay away from their human, even more so willingly. Daemons almost never leave the sight of their humans. Akira should have followed Tony.

Almost as if hearing her, Akira lifted her head and looked over, directly at Bruce’s neck, directly at Fern. The polecat froze, not daring to move, hoping she was hidden enough the husky couldn’t see her. Bruce, sensing her panic, shifted his shoulder in a small stretch, allowing Fern to scurry backwards.

“You don’t have to hide.” Bruce jumped involuntarily at the voice. He looked down at the husky, eyes wide. “No one will hurt you.” It took him a moment to realise, with a churning gut that Akira was looking and speaking, not to him, but his shirt collar.

“W-what are you talking about?” Bruce spluttered, feeling incredibly uncomfortable and praying for tony to join them again. Talking to someone else’s daemon was highly frowned upon, most people taking great offense. It was nearly as bad in some areas as touching another daemon.
Akira opened her mouth, now looking directly at Bruce, her piercing icy eyes holding his gaze. Her ears twitched, and she closed her mouth. Jumping off the couch, she trotted towards the bathroom door, just as Tony reappeared. He affectionately rubbed her head as he walked back over, plopping down heavily on the couch, Akira following. She, however, chose to retire to the empty couch, lying flat out across the length.

“Aw I missed the best bit.” Tony snapped Bruce’s attention away from the husky and back to reality as Tony grumbled and ranted about the current airing episode. Bruce hardly heard a word he was saying, his heart was hammering and he was finding it difficult to keep his breathing even.

Did she see you? Bruce focused his eyes on the TV as hard as he could. Fern curled herself around his neck, shaking.

I’m not sure. Tony has no idea what she did though, she swallowed. She was right, Tony sat completely oblivious for once to the situation. Although sharing many mental connections, man and daemon held their own unique conscience, meaning Akira didn’t have to share everything with Tony, and vice versa. Larger portions such as emotions were harder to conceal, but simple things like thought processes were easy to contain without the other knowing.

Trying to calm them both down, Fern shook her head and turned her attention to grooming Bruce’s hairline affectionately, keeping as much soothing contact as she could. She soothed him through the connection, humming and filling his worrying mind with calming noises. Neither of them noticed Akira, who was watching Bruce the entire time, eyes never breaking from his lounging form.


 

“Suck it, Rogers!” Clint’s voice reached their ears before they were even on the same floor. Bruce shoved his hands in his pockets nervously and dropped his gaze to the floor. The pair ended up being late, too engrossed in the TV series to realise the time. When the time struck 7:30pm, Jarvis finally gave up and gently informed them. After a lot of swearing and darting around, the pair made it to the elevator and jogged the rest of the way.

Tony, despite having had a few drinks already, managed to make it at such a fast pace without so much as a stumble, Akira as graceful as ever.

“I feared you were not coming, friends!” Thor’s voice welcomed the duo into the room, followed by a loud chirping hello. Annoyed and amused faces turned to greet them as they tumbled in.

“Yeah well, the life and soul of the party’s here now.” Tony smirked, giving Steve a huge grin who rolled his eyes, Leia twitching her tail. “Whats on the agenda?” Tony plopped down beside Clint and leaned over, looking down at the board games strewn over the floor. Repalla and Akira exchanged small chirps and grunts of greeting before falling silent.

The team were sitting on the various couches in a misshapen circle, the board of Trivial Pursuit on the floor. Various cards and markers were scattered around.

“We were trying to teach Thor and Steve the wonders of Trivial Pursuit.” Clint smirked slightly, indicating the board game. “Didn’t work out well.”

“Why that game? What’s wrong with Monopoly? Boggle? Pictionary? Even Twisters’ better than Pursuit.” Tony snorted in mock disgust.

Natasha raised an eyebrow, Berlion unmoving from her lap where he was curled. Steve sat confused, each name confusing him further, Leia’s head cocked to the side. Akira stretched out in front of her, eying her in almost curiosity. The German Shephard ignored her. Clint laughed slightly after a moment. He lifted a hand and hurled something small into the air, Repalla darting off his shoulder and into the air, wings spread wide as she retrieved the small board piece before it had time to hit the floor. She swiftly flew back to Clint’s shoulder, who merely took the piece and twirled it around in his fingers. Fern bristled in discomfort at the precision of her aim.

Bruce hovered at the edge of the scene, unsure of the whole situation. Everyone was so relaxed, daemon and people alike. Even Natasha cracked a smile occasionally. He swallowed, unsure of what to do. He wished more than ever he could turn and run back to his room and lock himself inside. It had taken all his will to venture down with Tony, the encounter with Akira still lingering in his mind, despite Fern’s calming effects.

“You just going to stand there, Banner?” Clint’s voice broke him out the trance, drawing his eye to the amused archer. He ducked his head and sat down next to Tony, trying to ignore the terrified shivers in his spine. “What one do you think?”

“Between what?” Bruce blinked. He really needed to listen more, he was getting tired of being caught in a conversation he had no idea what had been previously said.

“Pictionary or Twister?” Clint rolled his eyes at the last one, clearly not his ideal game. Judging by the smirk on Tony’s face however, Bruce realised, it was his decision. Steve and Thor looked clueless and offered no input. Natasha lazily watched, unmoving and not offering her opinion.

“Uh, whats Twister?” Bruce timidly asked. Tony spun round in his seat, a look of horror on his face. Even Natasha raised an eyebrow.

“You’ve never heard of Twister? Worse, you’ve never played it?” Tony gaped, Clint mirroring his expression. Bruce slowly shook his head.

“That settles it; Twister.” Tony jumped out his seat and started rummaging in the large pile for the box. Fern watched with nervous curiosity; Twister sounded good, but pretty physical, and Bruce would never join in on something like that.

“There! Right, the rules are simple, someone spins, and whatever the pointer lands on, you have to do.” Clint began explaining the rules to the three clueless while Tony spread the mat out. “Nat, you first. Who’s spinning?”

Tony paused for a moment, before smiling slightly and passing the small board to Akira, who promptly held it to the ground with one paw, and flicked the pointer with the other.

“Right foot, blue.” Akira spoke to the board, not looking up from her stretched position. Her expression, if Bruce was looking right, looked downright bored and fed up already. The assassin rolled her eyes slightly, but the Margay shifted from her lap, letting her stand to begin. Berlion settled again on the couch, his feature slightly lighter than a few moments ago.

“Left hand, red.” Clint sat forward next and knelt down, his face split in a wide grin as he made his first move. One by one, they all congregated on the floor, various colours designated to their hands or feet.

“Right hand, yellow. Bruce.” Akira’s voice caught him off guard and he realised, with a sinking feeling that everyone was staring at him expectantly. Tony cranked his neck round Clint, the mat barely large enough to hold them all.

“Come on, Banner.” Clint almost pouted. With incredible hesitation, Bruce slid to the floor and gingerly lay his hand on the nearest circle.

“Left hand, yellow.”

“That’s impossible! How can yo-ow!” Tony yelped as Natasha whacked his head with her shoulder as she bent around him to reach the colour. Akira winced slightly but then sniggered.

“Sorry, friend Banner.” Thor grunted as he swayed and bumped against Bruce’s back. Bruce couldn’t help the smile that appeared. They had only had one shot each and they were already starting to tangle, badly.

I’d win this hands down, Fern moodily huffed, wanting desperately to join in. She watched as Akira happily spun the pointer, and even Berlion was watching with a keen interest, inching closer the more Natasha stretched and twisted.

I’ll challenge you later, Bruce dismissed her slightly, too engrossed in watching Steve struggle to reach the circle between Thor’s leg and Tony’s shoulder. Fern puffed directly at his ear, before curling in a ball on his shoulder.

The game continued, the team becoming more and more tangled. Tony, the alcohol beginning to take effect, kept giggling as they all struggled to reach the right circle. He whooped in delight when Bruce was given the colour at the opposite end of the mat, and managed to flex himself around Steve. The game stopped when Thor overbalanced and crashed down on Steve and Clint, knocking both Bruce and Natasha off balance as well. After a moments silence, they broke into laughter, mocking Thor for falling first.

“I suggest a break from this game, then we hastily resume.” Thor claimed, standing up with a huge grin. Zacha fluttered her wings in agreement, finding endless amusement in watching the new team bond.

“Drinks first.” Clint smirked. He went round the room, collecting drink requests and disappeared, Steve hot in pursuit to help. Natasha sat down on the couch again, Berlion immediately curling onto her lap. Thor joined her, asking excitedly about Jenga.

“Didn’t realise you were an athlete.” Tony slurred slightly, plopping down next to Bruce and throwing an arm over his shoulder. Fern shied backwards, gently gripping into Bruce’s shirt as Tony barely missed her. She quivered slightly and pressed herself into Bruce’s back for comfort.

“I’m not. Lucky shots.” Bruce stiffened immediately at the touch, which only increased at Fern’s discomfort. Tony, completely unaware, snorted and began gabbling about unrelated nonsense. Bruce shifted his shoulder slightly, unnerved.

“Hey you alright? You don’t look good.” Tony suddenly leaned in a little, his face turning to sombre concern. Akira glanced over, eyes drinking in Bruce’s tense stance.

“Y-yeah.” Bruce stuttered, praying for Clint and Steve to return, or even Natasha or Thor to intervene. Both Avengers, however, were engaged in deep conversation and also unaware.

Make him move, Fern almost pleaded, her heart hammering and matching Bruce’s increasing pulse.

“Am I make you both uncomfortable?” Tony raised a serious eyebrow, his eyes darting around Bruce’s face for confirmation. Bruce swallowed, taking shaky breaths to calm his heart which was reaching a dangerous level.

“B-Both?” Bruce found himself asking, barely noticing Akira standing and approaching them.

“Ya know, you and the little one. Well, I’m assuming of course, small enough to hide away. You still didn’t answer my question; mouse, gerbil, or some kind of insect…” Tony smiled slightly as he spoke, either ignoring or unaware of Bruce’s terrified and horrified expression. Fern whimpered silently, slowly climbing down Bruce’s back and as far from Tony as she could.

“I-it isn’t ‘both’…” Bruce barely contained the shiver that brushed his spine.

“Aw come on, no need to keep secrets in here. So, male or female? I’ve only met same gender daemons a few times… its pretty cool though.” Tony rolled his eyes, a hand gently rubbing Akira’s head, who had approached and was staring straight at the ground, her expression unreadable.

“Tony, i-“ Bruce began, but didn’t finish. Tony had pulled away as quick as he’d appeared, mumbling a small apology and quickly excusing himself to the bathroom. Akira slowly followed, but not before Bruce caught the almost apologetic glance. He watched her go, heart still hammered in his chest.

She helped us?, Fern timidly crawled back to Bruce’s shoulder, keeping as close to him as she could.

Looks like it. She knows you’re here, but she can’t sense you, its impossible. Why help?, Bruce was just as shocked. Daemon and man, having such a strong mental connection, could influence each other’s feelings and thoughts; Tony was completely oblivious to the tension he was causing, and never noticed until Akira approached.

Fern didn’t reply, only lay down with a small sigh. Akira may or may not sense her, or have even seen her, but Tony…he was a different story. Even before Akira had had a chance to evaluate Bruce’s daemonic state, Tony had addressed them both. She had caught him sending small glances all over Bruce when talking; shoulder, chest, hair, pockets. He had been looking from the moment they met. Akira only began to grow curious after Tony had pressed Bruce in the lab of the Helicarrier. What she couldn’t understand was why he was so adamant he was right when the rest of the team accepted her absence and never questioned it, the respectful thing to do if possibly concerning a Souless person.

She suddenly couldn’t breathe. She thought back to that first meeting. Tony had pushed Bruce about her, and she had reassured Bruce that Akira couldn’t sense her because she had made no contact or already sensed her before.

Now she had.

A mere hour ago, she had touched Bruce, albeit slight enough he never felt it. Fern had. Akira had made contact, and that was the first time she has looked for Fern, and found her straight away. Man and daemon links are at their absolute strongest when touching each other, hence why Fern feels safest to stay with Bruce the majority of the time, and why many smaller daemons mostly perch on their humans. Larger daemons initiate contact just as much; leaning and brushing against their human’s legs often.
Akira had touched them both and made it out to be an accident, meaning neither human felt it. Daemons typically only initiate contact with human in the deepest instances of love, or hatred. It either causes intense happiness and euphoria, or agonising pain.

And Fern wasn’t sure what Akira hoped to have gained from that, which terrified her.

Fern?, Bruce cut through her thoughts, concerned as her increasing worry and anxiety. She purred and gently rubbed his neck in an apologetic reassurance. After a few moments, Bruce relaxed and returned his attention back to the room, listening contently to Thor attempting a quick match of Jenga with Natasha while Clint and Steve finished the drinks round.

Fern whimpered to herself at the sudden revelation. Feeling at a complete loss, she began to groom herself to distract her rushing thoughts. Of course, she had been the one to say they had to move on and accept the past for what it is, that the team can be trusted, Tony can be trusted. This new knowledge however, frightened her. She was out in the open, exposed as Bruce would put it.

“Alright, round 2.” Clint chirped gleefully after taking a quick sip of his drink. Tony had come back, this time sitting at the opposite side of the room, eyes avoiding Bruce. Clint dropped the board deliberately at Akira, who pulled it closer and began to spin. While Natasha stood and made her first move, Akira lifted her eyes to Bruce, catching not his, but searching for Fern’s eye. She searched for a few seconds more, Fern not daring to move in fear of being seen, before Akira gave a small, reassuring smile and returned to the game.

Chapter Text

“You need to stop interfering.” “You’re pushing him.”

“I’m not, they just need to see they’re safe and everything will be fine. He’s just paranoid, as always.” Akira lay across the edge of the bed, eyes drooping slightly in her drowsy state.

Tony was stumbling around, fighting his way out of his t-shirt less than gracefully. He wasn’t drunk, well, incredibly drunk. To someone else, Tony was drunk, but to someone who knew him, this was almost a normal night routine. It was, however, until the Avengers made the tower their base and living quarters. It was late, the whole team retired from the team bonding night a few hours ago. Tony, not being ready for sleep, had decided to go to the lab, unfazed by Bruce’s hasty departure and flimsy excuses of being too tired to work. He had to admit he was a bit miffed, but he wasn’t deterred completely, not even Akira’s unimpressed glares discouraged him. They had worked in silence, Akira roaming round the lab freely as Tony laboured on. She had retired to her usual resting spot; atop Tony’s desk and had dozed as Tony worked. She knew something was bothering him majorly, however she knew better than to push him to tell her. He would in his own time, pushing him to would get her nowhere. She had a vague idea of what it was anyway; being connected emotionally to him had its advantages. After a few innocent comments traded between them, Akira had turned the conversation back to that night, and hit the nail on the head almost straight away.

“You’ll do more harm than good. It’s ‘he’, Tony, not ‘they’.” Akira grunted, dropping her head to her paws with a comfortable sigh. Regardless of what she thought or knew, she felt a strange urge to deter Tony from this particular subject, fearing the possible outcomes; none where particularly standing out as being good. Tony merely grumbled in response as he trudged to the bathroom, tossing his t-shirt in the general direction of the wash basket. He didn’t response until he appeared five minutes later, teeth brushed and face quickly scrubbed.

“I don’t need your advice.” He huffed, climbing into bed and sending his daemon a quick glare. Akira only smiled, standing up and trotting to his side once he was settled in the covers.

“We both know that’s a lie. If you’re heading for his affection, you’re going the complete wrong way about it.”

Tony spluttered in shock, eyes snapping to the lounging husky who stared back ever so casually. “Affection? You nuts?”

Akira merely rolled her eyes, laying her head onto his bare chest. After a second, Tony’s thumb began to stroke circles on her head soothingly.

“As nuts as you are.” She mumbled with a contented sigh, allowing the conversation to drop, satisfied with the outcome.

Tony didn’t hear her, quiet snores already sounding through the dark room, his hand stilling on Akira’s head. With a small smile, she settled into a comfier position, and closed her eyes with a puff of air as she followed Tony’s example and fell into a peaceful sleep.


 

“That’s it. We’re leaving.”

“You say that every time.”

“Ok, well this time I mean it.” Bruce grumbled, hastily grabbing shirts from his drawers and dropping them on the bed. He frantically began searching under the bed for his rucksack, the one he always kept at close hand with some essentials in case he had to take flight unexpectedly. After a few moments of blindly feeling around, he kneeled up, hands slammed down on the bed beside the lounging snow leopard, eyes narrowed. “Where is it?”

“Where is what?” Fern frowned innocently with a flick of her tail.

Bruce growled and stood, stalking to the bathroom. Fern merely smiled to herself and dropped her head to the bed. She hadn’t exactly hid it, only moved it to a more secluded location where she was sure Bruce wouldn’t find it. She had expected this; a panicked decision to run, without thinking it all through. She had wanted to force Bruce to think, not to make rash decisions, and if she couldn’t persuade him, the lack of his rucksack would slow him down enough.

“I’ll find it you know, we’re leaving first thing tomorrow.”

“I’m sure there’s a carrierbag in the kitchen, want me to get it?” she suppressed the snigger at the responded snarl.

“Stop it. Why are you doing this?” Bruce appeared from the bathroom, eyes wide from both panic and anger as he stalked towards her.

“I’ve not done anything.” She protested slightly, sitting up with a lazy stretch. Bruce snorted, reaching out and grabbing her shoulder, forcing her back onto the bed. “Hey!” she huffed as Bruce climbed onto her and pinned her in place.

“We’re not safe, Fernanda. Get that into your thick skull and help me get us out of here.” Bruce hissed, but his tone was pleading and frantic. Fern flashed her teeth in warning with a snarl, a paw swiping and missing Bruce’s face by inches.

“What if I don’t want to leave?” Bruce blinked, stunned. “This is where we belong. We have a home, why are you so willing to roll over and show your belly the minute Stark says something?”

“This has nothing to do with Stark.” Bruce swallowed.

“You sure? You were on edge all night, and it only got worse when he was nearby.”

“And you weren’t?” Bruce’s eyes were shining, flickering in complete anger as he stared at the leopard. There was no hint of green however, he was still in control. “He was trying to expose you!”

“He was showing you that you’re safe and belong here! I’m not saying I wasn’t, but I’m not willing to run away in fear. That’s all we’ve ever done, Bruce. Run. Never face anything, always run before it can catch us. We ran from father, Ross, Betty…want me to continue?” Fern hissed, her ears flicking back in frustration. “I’m fed up that we don’t belong somewhere, every time someone shows that they care, you freak and scurry away. Not this time.” Fern snapped, turning her back and stalking to the window, focusing her attention on the silent cityscape. She couldn’t help herself but get angry at him, especially as he was being so stubborn.

“You know damn well why we ran from each of them.” Bruce hissed, but the anger wasn’t there. His eyes were downcast, deep in troubled thought. “Its only a matter of time before you’re seen…before they know about you.”

“Bruce, that already do. Come on, you think they’re stupid enough to believe you’re soulless? Isn’t that enough proof that they care? They know, but haven’t pushed you or forced you into anything, that’s what a team is, what family is.”

“Familys’ a bit too far.” Bruce mumbled. His eyes looked everywhere but Fern.

“Call them what you want. Doesn’t change what I’m saying. One step at a time, remember?”

“You’ve jumped about three steps! You want to be caught? Be seen?”

“I want us to live our lives! Which we can do here! If Stark didn’t care, why would he have spent some much time giving each one of you a place to stay, clothes, food, you name it.” She sighed, turning round to face him properly. “Hiding is a thing of the past, Bruce. We need to move on, and start living in the present and not let it go by. I’m not saying I’m going to waltz out there one day, but we do it gradually, one step at a time. When we’re both ready, I want to meet the other daemons. I want to get to know them all as you have. We can protect ourselves.” she sighed, shaking her head slightly.

Bruce stood motionless the whole time, still bent over the bed. He watched her with a pained expression. When she finished speaking, he lowered his gaze with a sigh, as they stood together in agonising silence for what felt like an eternity, as his mind whirled. He couldn’t stop thinking about the warehouse, how happy and carefree she has been out in the open, the feeling of freedom and wonder of her sensing the world, not attached to him like a leech.

“I-I know.” Was all he could manage. After a few seconds, he shakily took a breath and continued. “I know what you mean, and I agree. I have since the helicarrier. I-I just don’t want to be wrong about this one. I-” Betty was hard enough, to face another rejection after so long of refusing to let it happen again? “I don’t want to face it again. I’m tired of running from everything.”

“We won’t be anymore.” Fern stood and softly padded to his side, nuzzling into him.

“We?” Bruce looked up, confusion crossing his features.

“It’s a joint decision. I’ll never force you to do anything you don’t want to, and I know you won’t hurt me.” Bruce slowly lowered himself to the ground, wrapping his arms around her neck as she stood over him, leaning into his chest.

“It won’t happen overnight, but you’re right.” Fern looked up at the shaking man. “We shouldn’t run. We’ve been safe here since we arrived, and no one’s done anything to make me doubt that…but if they do…” he whimpered, almost conflicting with himself. Fern gently batted his head with hers with a soft rumble.

“Then that’s when we walk away. Not running in fear, but walking with level heads. A man and his daemon, together.” “Yeah. W-we can do this, right?” “Of course we can.” Fern smiled. Bruce smiled a shaky smile back, and pulled her closer, hugging tightly.

“I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

“Back in Kolkata.” Fern mumbled, earning a choked laugh. “It’s time the world seen us, we’re the best team out there.”

“Think the Captain and his German Shephard bet you to it.” Bruce rolled his eyes, one hand stroking Fern’s head soothingly.

“But the physicist and his leopard? Sounds much better.” Fern grinned.

Bruce settled his back against the bed, Fern lying down beside him, her head resting on his shoulder while her paws proper her up against his chest. Bruce pressed his cheek to her forehead with a small contented sigh. For the first time since arriving, he felt whole. He believed he belonged, for however that feeling would last. Everything Fern had said was right; and he listened. He knew he was safe, but he had to prove it to himself, and hiding in anticipation isn’t the way to find out. He had to allow himself to relax, to be himself as the rest of the team had. He was brought from his thoughts by the contented snuffling of Fern, as she drifted to sleep. He smiled against her fur, feeling himself beginning to drift. Tomorrow. That’s when they would become Bruce and Fern. When they would finally stop running from their fears, and turn to face what he’s been running past the whole time.

Chapter Text

I got this feeling, inside my bones.

It goes electric, wavey when I turn it on.

The jet was quiet except from the mainstream radio playing through the speakers. The team sat in drapes around the jet, in different states of exhaustion. They had been called on an unexpected mission, to diffuse a growing situation in what was believed to be a Hydra base having stolen a relic. The situation only got worse however, and ended with the whole team being called in and a resulting fight to recall the stolen artefact. It was reclaimed and the thugs sent packing, but not after a long wearing fight. The Hulk had to be called out as the fight only kept escalating.

Clint was at the front piloting, refusing to rest and insisting he was fine, despite his sagging shoulders and stiff neck. Repalla struggled to stay upright on her human’s shoulder, occasionally ruffling herself violently and gliding over to his other shoulder. Steve was hunched over, Steve’s eyes and breathing heavy, his hair plastered to his neck. He was aimlessly playing with his earpiece in an attempt to keep him awake. Leia lay flat out at his feet having already succumbed to sleep moments after the jet lifted off. Natasha and Thor were more alert, the assassin idly flicking her finger across the screen in front of her as she continued to read her book, a look of eerie calm around her despite the previous mission’s demanding tasks. Berlion was sprawled at her feet, contently grooming himself. Thor had turned to talking to Clint and Tony, reminiscing the mission’s success and demanding a celebration that night, Zacha trilling in delight as she paced around. Tony and Bruce sat together, both looking just as exhausted as each other and in a worse physical state. Tony was sit in the suit, only the faceplate removed, and Bruce was in his post-hulk clothing; joggers and an oversized hoodie. He was resting his head on the wall behind him, drifting in and out of consciousness, occasionally jerking upright as he began sliding to the side. On more than one occasion, he has drifted deeper into a sleep and slid onto Tony’s shoulder, only to wake with a start at the shock of the cold metal against his cheek. Tony smiled and patted his knee understandingly the first few times.

Nothing I can see but you when you dance, dance, dance.

A feeling good good creeping up on you, so just dance, dance, dance, come on!

“Barton, what’s with this music taste? I expected better from you.” Tony looked over to the cockpit, making Bruce jump awake at the sudden noise, and giving the archer a disapproving stare.

“You don’t know Timberlake? Don’t look at me, it’s the radio station. It’s quite catchy though.”

“Is that what it’s called nowadays? Not my type.” Tony rolled his eyes.

“It’s called chart music. This is a top hit.” Clint shrugged, but Tony caught the head bopping to the beat. He mockingly sighed and shock his head, averting his attention back to Akira who eagerly lapped it up. Tony wasn’t usually affectionate in public towards her, preferring to wait until they were alone before he would stroke or pat her, so she was going to enjoy it while it lasted. Akira sat upright against Tony’s leg in-between him and Bruce, almost purring in contentment as Tony slowly played with her ears absentmindedly. She pushed herself into his legs occasionally, the odd time brushing against Bruce, but both men were too exhausted to notice the casual touch. Fern, however, did notice and continued to stare out Bruce’s shirt at the husky, shivering and grumbling with each contact.

 

“Can’t stop the feeling.” Tony looked over at Natasha who offered the song’s name without looking up from her book. She looked up after a minute of silence to catch Tony’s stare of disbelief. “I like it, it’s a happy song.”

“Don’t we know it.” Bruce piped up, causing both to look between then at the sleepy man. He blinked a few times and sat up fully, giving a small shrug. “It’s always on when you’re in the kitchen.”

“How would you know?” Tony raised an eyebrow in surprise. Natasha smiled slightly and turned her attention back to her book, but turned her body slightly into the conversation.

“I’m usually there, call it unfortunate. Not the best song out there.” Bruce sighed, earning a snigger out of Tony. “Best chart one right now is probably Castle on a Hill.”

“Oh I like that one! Ed Sheeran right?” Steve chirped, lifting his head with a grin, looking mighty pleased he finally understood what the conversation was about. Tony looked down at Bruce in disgust who only offered a small genuine smile, which Tony soon returned.

“Didn’t realise you were a closet Sheeran fan. I’ve purposely avoided that kind of music.”

“I have not heard such music, Banner, Rogers. What is it sounding like?” Thor looked between the two men.

“We’ll put it on tonight at the celebration.” Natasha emotionlessly offered before either Bruce or Steve could answer. Tony glared over at her and opened his mouth to protest.

“I look forward to this Sheeran rhythm! We shall dance until we are weary!” Thor boomed with a grin, raising both fists with an excited, victorious grin. Steve grinned back with a nod, Natasha and Bruce sniggered as Tony sighed in exasperation.

“Fine, only one Sheeran song is allowed.”

“And Timberlake.” Natasha leaned back and crossed a leg over the other. Tony only grumbled in response, seeing no point in arguing.

He leaned back as the conversation drifted off again into comfortable silence, marvelling at the unexpected family unit he had acquired in the team he never believed he would warm to. He would almost say he enjoyed their company more than his own now. Almost.

As the conversation had taken place, Akira had lay down across his feet and drifted off. He casted his eyes over her with a small smile, before his eyes found themselves hovering over Bruce, who was leaning back as well, his eyes drooping further and further with each blink. The man who walked alone. The man with no daemon. Tony shook his head, trying to shake the thought away, remembering the conversation between him and Akira a few nights ago. He had to stop bringing it up, if not for Bruce, for himself. He couldn’t afford to hurt Bruce and push him away, not after the initial struggle he had in getting Bruce to relax in his presence. He shook his head with a smile at how far they had both come, how their relationship had changed and developed, probably faster and further than they both thought possible. He couldn’t deny he had a huge soft spot for the scientist.

He was brought out his thoughts by the soft tap of Bruce’s head resting on his shoulder. He turned his head slightly to steal a glance. Bruce hadn’t stirred, clearly in too deep a sleep to have realised he had fallen over slightly. Tony blinked, and after a moment, shifted his shoulder slightly to lift Bruce’s head to avoid his neck aching. Bruce’s hair tickled Tony’s neck as he shifted the sleeping man with a slight smile. He used a hand to gently swipe the stray hairs away from his face and neck, trying not to think too deeply about the position they were in. Who was he to wake the poor man up? He settled his head against the way, letting his own eyes droop, completely unaware of Akira’s wandering paw that gently breezed against Bruce.


“You trying to hide back here?” Bruce looked up from his glass as Tony casually approached him. It was fast approaching the early morning hours, the team still partying on. When the quinjet had landed, they had all piled out and fell into their respective beds, sleeping until past dusk. When they had unintentionally all met in the kitchen minus Bruce who slumbered on, they had agreed to still have a night together. Bruce had woken up and graced them with his presence shortly after 10pm, just as the team had begun to gather. Bruce, still a bit groggy and slow, had migrated to the kitchen where it was quieter. He felt split, Fern had decided to stay in the room as she preferred to doze for longer. He had forced himself to still go down, one step at a time after all. His shoulder felt eerily light and empty though.

“Just getting a drink.” He slowly answered, although they both knew that was a lie, the drink in his hand had hardly been touched.

“You should have a beer or something, spice it up.” Tony grinned, already being to act drunk. Akira stood slightly and looked off into the heart of the party with an almost bored expression.

“I’m good. Don’t drink.” Bruce shook his head, minutely tightening his hold on his glass of water. Alcohol never meant anything good, not from what he remembered anyway.

“Meh don’t be boring. Well, we both know you ain’t boring but you get my drift.” Tony grinned sloppily. He gently leaned against the counter beside Bruce who watched him wearily. Akira stretched and walked around to Tony and leaned against his legs, almost like she was supporting him.

“I wouldn’t say that. I like boring.” Bruce defended slightly. He casted a glance over at the tipsy man who chuckled in response. His mouth opened but whatever he was about to say was stopped by Clint sauntering in with empty glasses and a wide grin.

“Alright lovebirds, whats crackin’?” Tony raised an eyebrow at the archer as he grabbed different drinks and began to pour Natasha and Steve’s drink.

“Please don’t ever use ‘whats crackin’ again, not in my presence anyway.” He puffed, earning a laugh from Clint. The archer nudged Bruce who looked lost in the conversation.

“You look a little more awake that earlier. Maybe.” Bruce smiled slightly and forced himself to bump him back.

“You kinda look better too I suppose.” Clint grinned and lifted the drinks. He gave Tony a mocking stern look before starting out the kitchen. Before he left he shouted over his shoulder at the pair, “The kitchen is a strictly no snogging place, only cuddling is allowed.” He pointedly looked at Tony and then Bruce. Tony blinked slightly, Bruce didn’t react, his exhausted mind not realising Clint’s meaning.

“My kitchen, my rules.” Tony snorted and raised his finger rudely at the archer who merely grinned as he disappeared back to the other members, Natasha trying to explain multiple drinking games to Thor and Steve who looked on blankly. “What an idiot.”

“Clints nice.” Bruce innocently piped up, finally looking up from his drink which had become so interesting when Clint had appeared. “They all are.” He added after a moment’s thought.

“Does that include me? Kinda sounded like it didn’t.” Tony mockingly grabbed his chest. A part of him waited in anticipation for the answer, however small that part was.

“You know it does.” Bruce rolled his eyes, but a small smile played at the corner of his lips.

“Yeah I know, I’m your favourite.” Tony beamed, a giddy feeling washing over him. He shook his head, the alcohol must have been affecting him more than he realised.

Bruce didn’t answer, but didn’t object which Tony took as a positive. The smaller man seemed to drift away in thought for a moment, Tony’s eyes wandering his face for a moment before he gently nudged him.

“Wait…Why did Clint say no snogging?” Bruce suddenly lifted his head and looked at Tony in confusion. He stared at him with wide eyes.

“You know how I am irresistible? Yeah, he was meaning that.” Tony swallowed, watching Bruce for any sort of reaction. Bruce cracked a smile after a moment and let out a small laugh and a huffed ‘oh’. “Cause we all know you find me irresistible.”

“Is that what’s it’s called nowadays.” Bruce’s voice was low. Tony snorted and chuckled with a shake of his head. They plunged into silence for a few moments, before Tony turned to face him properly.

“Somethings on your mind, what is it?” Tony threw an arm over Bruce’s shoulder and gently squeezed him. His voice was surprisingly low and careful. Bruce reacted slightly at the touch, before forcing himself to relax, reminding himself Fern wasn’t in danger of being touched. His heart sank a little at the thought of her so far away.

“I’m fine, just still tired.” Bruce forced a smile as she caught Tony’s unconvinced eye.

“You sure? You’re a bit tense. Muscles sore?” Bruce swallowed and opened his mouth, but words were halted as Tony began to dig his fingers into his shoulders. He was usually achy after a hulk out but he had felt he was alright this time. He closed his eye and let out a long breath involuntarily as Tony massaged his sore shoulders. “Your muscles must be in agony.” Tony turned to fully face him, both hands gripping either shoulder now.

“They’re not that bad this time. I’ve had worse.” Bruce offered, his voice weak as Tony worked the knots out. He smiled slightly at the obvious comfort the scientist took from his massage.

 “I guess so.” Tony mumbled weakly. His hands stopped massaging, and gently cupped Bruce’s upper arms instead. The smaller man, suddenly seemed to become aware of their intimate position and tensed, eyes opening fully and freezing in place as he watched Tony’s face carefully. Akira, still leaning into Tony’s legs, was circling impatiently, coming close to touching Bruce on multiple occasions. Tony continued to watch Bruce, feeling an unusual lack of confidence and uncertainty on what to do next. Even worse, he wasn’t really sure how he felt right now. Why was he so close to Bruce? More importantly, why was he unwilling to pull back?

“Why are we still standing like this?” Bruce’s voice was a hushed whisper, a hint of worry coated with uncertainty. Tony opened his mouth, but didn’t know what to respond with. Because apparently I feel for you? I think my daemon turned out to be right? I don’t actually know, but don’t let go? I’m not sure why the hell is going on, I think I’m just drunk?

“Is it making you uncomfortable?” Tony questioned gently instead. He felt incredibly sober all of a sudden. He carefully studied Bruce’s expression as he processed his question. Many emotions fleeted over; fear, uncertainty, confusion, panic.

“I-I don’t know.” Bruce almost whimpered, wishing desperately for the comforting guide of Fern to tell him what to do and what this all meant. He didn’t want to bother her though, knowing she was sleeping as he could barely feel her through their connection. He swallowed, feeling the panic rising.

“That’s a start I guess.” Tony’s voice was unsure as he cleared his throat. Akira had stopped circling and was sitting beside them both, eyeing them intensely. Bruce looked down at her, breath hitching in his throat as he watched her calmly turn towards him, inches away.

It happened so quickly that he didn’t register it until moments later. Tony’s hand, which had been resting on his arm, suddenly slid down and gripped his hand, the other arm circling around his back and pulling him into Tony’s chest. As soon as he collided with the hard chest, Bruce snapped out of his frozen state and reacted, jumping back with a gasp and breaking from the hold. He didn’t have to look to know Tony’s lips had been inching closer as well. Looking at the frozen billionaire, his arms still suspended in the air between them, Bruce’s legs suddenly shook and unlocked. He turned on his heels and bolted out the room, heading past the team who barely noticed and belted up the stairs to his floor.

To Fern.

Away from Tony.

Chapter Text

Bruce woke with a start, his hand automatically lifting to his face. Instead he hit a mountain of soft, warm fur. It took his sleep-deprived brain a few seconds to realise his head was resting on Fern, her paw also draped over him and holding him close. He frowned slightly, unsure of their position. Fern mostly always slept either at his feet, of at the very opposite edge parallel to him, and they almost never slept beside each other let alone cuddle up to each other. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, feeling the headache already starting. He gave a slight groan as he tried to forced himself upright, shifting Fern’s paw off his chest.
The morning after a hulk-out was always worse, his muscles screaming in protest to every moment which seemed to be in slow motion. His eyes stung at the offending streams of light that passed through the cracks in the curtains, which he didn’t remember closing before falling asleep, as they draped over the duvet in bright white strips. His head felt like a lead balloon, heavy yet lightheaded as he swayed, fighting hard to keep himself sitting up and not tumble back down.
It took his weary, foggy mind to recall the previous nights events. When he did however, his heart skipped a beat and his breathing hitched.

Tony.

Tony who had attempted to kiss him, whether as a joke or under the influence of alcohol, Bruce wasn’t entirely sure. He wasn’t keen to find out either, afraid of what the answer may be. He knew the billionaire was a flirt, and would frequently joke and tease other members of the team, but he had never went as far as trying to kiss them. He shook his head, he couldn’t read into it. That wouldn’t help anyone and would just make it awkward for both of them. Surely Tony wouldn’t remember, and they could just forget about it, and even if Tony did remember, Bruce was almost fully confident that he wouldn’t want to be reminded of such a huge mistake. He couldn’t let himself decide on the reasons. He wasn’t completely sure himself why, but part of him was scared of guessing wrong.

Beside him, Fern stirred slightly and choked a yawn, drawing Bruce out of his thoughts. She stretched herself out before settling back down into slumber again. Bruce half watched her, jealous at how easy sleep came to her. Of course, she was oblivious to what happened the night before and was unaware of the anxiety and confusion swirling in his head.

After Bruce had ran from the room, he had legged it to his quarters, praying Tony wouldn’t follow. He had burst into the room, hair sticking to his forehead and panting heavily. Fern had been laying on the bed, breathing deeply and out cold. He took a moment to compose himself and took deep, calming breaths. Once he was sure his heart wasn’t about to burst out of his chest, he pushed himself off the door he had been leaning on for support, and slowly made his way to the bathroom.
After that it was blurry. He recalled having a cold shower to calm himself further, and then a hot one in an attempt to make himself tired. He didn’t remember coming out the shower or getting into bed.

He stole a quick glance at the clock, his mind still not functioning and thinking fully. 11:30am. He made a small face to himself with a sigh, and lay back down. He moaned as his head hit the pillow, his muscles protesting to the sudden move.

“Morning, sport.” He turned his head and watched as Fern tilted her head upwards to look at him, blinking the sleep from her heavy eyes. She smiled slightly and nestled closer, head nuzzling into his cheek as she flung her paw over his chest. He tried not to wince at the heavy impact or the forced movement of his neck as she snuggled further into him. Shifting upright, she propped close to him and gently began to groom and massage his hair lovingly.

“Morning.” He smiled for the first time the morning, feeling instantly more at ease that she was was there. He turned closer into her warm body, letting himself be soothed by her.

“What’s bothering you?” Fern continued grooming but Bruce could feel her eyes boring into him. He sighed, there was no point trying to hide from Fern. Despite being connected to each other emotionally and mentally, he knew no one better than her, and she knew no one better than him. Of course she knew something was wrong, he’d be a fool to think he could have hidden anything from Fern. However, he could only tell part of it.

“Just Tony. He got drunk last night and we all know what he’s like then.” He shrugged, playing very casual in the hope she’d fall for it. She didn’t answer, but the paw resting on Bruce’s shoulder gripped ever so slightly tighter. Well at least he tried.

“No, I don’t, so tell me.” Her voice was soft but held a tone that showed she wasn’t falling victim. She shifted her head down so she could look at Bruce properly. “I know you, so I know when something just isn’t quite right. You’re freaked out by something and just Tony drinking doesn’t do that. What happened?” She was being polite and he knew it. She could have easily just tapped into his memories and found out for herself, but she wouldn’t.

“He-“ Bruce started but cut himself off with a sigh. He sat up again, turning and propping himself onto an elbow so he was facing her properly. She waited patiently, eyes lidded heavily in contentment as she watched her human with intensity. “He tried to kiss me. He was hugging me and Barton made a joke about no snogging or whatever and when I asked him what he meant he-I don’t know how to explain it. He went serious and really weird, and then tried to kiss me.”

Fern watched and let him talk, watching as he shook his head and gestured as he told his recollection of the night. What he didn’t know was that she already knew, she had been awake when he had came clamouring in the room last night and had heard his panicked thoughts screaming. When he had closed the bathroom door and was out of sight, she had contemplated comfort, but something stopped her. She had decided to ‘fall asleep’ and allow Bruce time to himself, to consider everything and think it through.

She understood Tony was making a brave, bolshy move by what he did, but she could hardly blame him and wasn’t all that surprised. The tension between the two of them the past few weeks had been almost unbearable for herself and no doubt Akira. She had watched Bruce become slightly withdrawn and in response, Tony becoming more eccentric and bubbly. They had continued in that cycle for a few weeks now, Tony become more forward and impulsive. Tony had been the same at the last team night when they had all attempted to play Twister.

The first night Akira sensed and seen her. Although panicked at first, she has become uncomfortably calm with the knowledge that her presence was known elsewhere, and it was clear that Akira hadn’t shared that information with Tony. Instead of being freaked or worried about being more than likely noticed, she almost revelled in the knowledge. The thought of someone knowing she was there other than Bruce was thrilling yet slightly terrifying. It had been so long since she had walked carefree and interacted with another daemon. Her mind wandered to the warehouse, how she was able to walk away from Bruce in plain sight and neither were in danger. The feeling of freedom was so sweet, she longed to feel it again.

She wasn’t surprised that Tony was pushing Bruce, he had mentioned her many times and was confident adamant that she was there, despite being told by everyone to drop the subject and let things be. She admired his determination and how he refused to give up.

What she was surprised at, was how well Bruce was taking all this and he wasn’t preparing to run for the hills, quite the opposite actually. When they had first arrived, Bruce had been so skitterish, he would have fled at the slightest thing. She felt oddly satisfied and proud, clearly everything she had said to Bruce hadn’t went unnoticed and he was actually beginning to understand and feel comfortable in himself.

She watched him with almost disbelief as he shrugged it off with a simple “if Tony doesn’t mention it, I’m sure not and then it’s forgotten about”. She was being to think Bruce’s very intense and close friendship with Tony was evolving further, maybe both parties unaware of what and where, but they weren’t in a rush to stop and find out. Things had definitely changed, even if Bruce didn’t notice.

“It guess Tony is just always going to be Tony.” She smiled and nuzzled her face into him, purring in delight when he lifted his hand and ruffled her ear. “ I’m sure whatever’s meant to be will be. Are you taking today off?”

“Uhh, no I probably shouldn’t. If I leave that experiment too long I’ll need to start again. It will be ok though right? I mean, if Tony’s there should I leave or not?”

“Asks the guy who just sat there and told me it doesn’t mean anything and you’ve both no doubt forgotten it.” She chuckled slightly as he made an unsure face. “I think you should maybe run with it.”

“Fern, it was a drunken attempt, it didn’t mean anything.” Bruce sighed, his cheek colouring slightly. “Wait, what do you mean by that? Are you trying to say you think I have feelings for him? Do you? What makes you think that?” Bruce tensed suddenly and sat upright, staring down at the amused leopard, his cheeks now scarlet.

“I didn’t say any of that, you’re the one that thought of that to say it. I mean, just go with the flow and see what happens. You know him much better than me, remember I’ve not even met the guy yet officially.” She laughed and stood, stretching herself slightly before padding closer to the flustered man and nudging him with her shoulder. “Lighten up and loosen off, Bruce. Not everything that happens is the end of the world.”

“Yeah you’re right.” He nodded, his lips pressed together in a tight line, he was still ever so slightly uneasy about the whole situation, and knew he wasn’t doing a good job of hiding it from Fern.

“Go get ready before we both fall back asleep. I’ll stay here today if that makes you feel better.” Fern jumped off the bed and padded to the window, nudging the curtains aside wide enough for her to look out at the warm spring day.

“You don’t have to. You’ve been cooped up here for a while now. You can come if you want.” Bruce nodded slightly, as if trying to convince himself. He knew he was overreacting, so he had at treat it all as such, but oh how difficult that was proving.

Fern merely hummed, pleased at his offer. She smiled to herself as Bruce shifted himself off the bed and began to get ready. “Do you want me to shift?” Fern lazily threw over her shoulder. She sniggered at the startled thud of something hitting the floor and Bruce’s soft cursing.

“Ha ha very funny.”

“Jarvis, do you think I should?” Fern turned her gleeful eye on Bruce who paled.

“I believe it would be in Dr. Banners best wishes for you to comply.” JARVIS’s smooth voice didn’t miss a beat.

“Oh great, now you talk to JARVIS?” Bruce blinked in disbelief. “You do know Tony can look into JARVIS’ cameras? And he can talk, what if-“

“If I may, Dr., I have been conversing with Fernanda for some time now, since you arrived at the tower. I understand your wishes that her presence is kept hidden and therefore Mr. Stark does not know, or shall not find out through connections with myself.” JARVIS reassured Bruce, but he could have swore he heard a hint of sarcasm.

“Teamed up against a leopard and AI, brilliant.” Bruce weakly muttered as Fern grinned and sent a small wink towards the general area of JARVIS’ camera.

 


 

Some time later, Bruce made his way down towards the lab, Fern tucked happily in his shirt. He was nervous, worried Tony would be there and mention the previous night. He tried not to overthink it, but he couldn’t fully stop his mind going over all the potential outcomes of meeting Tony again. He was praying for the first outcome; Tony had either forgotten or just let it slide and it wasn’t mentioned again. Even better, maybe he wasn’t actually going to be there, maybe too hungover to come down and had taken the day off to recover.

As the elevator door pinged and announced his arrival, Bruce’s heart almost sank as the doors slide open to the sound of music. At one end, Tony sat contently working away, head bobbing to the beat and feet tapping against the stools footrest. Akira was nowhere in sight.

Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, Bruce shakily stepped out the lift and slowly walked to his desk, keeping his head down and gaze set on his workspace.

“Bruce. Uh, hi.” Tony’s startled voice stopped Bruce in his tracks. He looked over his shoulder to the engineer and managed a weak smile. Akira appeared from under the table, eyes fixing onto Bruce as she froze in place.

“Uh hi. How’s your head?” Bruce lightly joked, having to almost shout over the music. Tony took the hint and gently cranked the music down. He put down the screwdriver he was holding and offered a small shrug. Akira slowly sat down, her eyes never leaving Bruce.

“Felt worse I guess. Kinda an expert with handling drink.” He flashed a slight grin, looking slightly more like his usual confident self. Bruce couldn’t help but smile back, the small gesture lighting his features as he ducked his head with a chuckle.

“Glad to hear it.” He nodded, his hands beginning to twist and fiddle as he fumbled for the words.

They plunged into a deafening silence, both men looking away awkwardly as they fought to find something to say. Akira was the first to move, getting up with a yawn and walked slowly over to the window and lay down. After a few seconds, Bruce cleared his throat and walked over to the kitchen area. He tried to focus his mind away from the intimidating silence and shoved the kettle on to boil. He busied about making himself a cup of tea, pausing for a moment before getting a second mug out and preparing a coffee. The blissful noise of the kettle droned Tony out and he let out a small sigh of almost relief.

This is so much harder than I thought., Bruce grimaced to Fern. She didn’t answer, merely offering a small huff and licked his neck. He growled slightly to himself as the kettle clicked and finished boiling. He reached for the handle, enjoying the heat of the steam as it swirled around his arm.

“You want a hand?” Tony’s voice startled them both, ferns claws digging painfully into Bruce’s neck as she shot behind him. Bruce jumped with a pained yelp as Tony appeared behind him and spun round, hand hitting the piping hot kettle in the process. He yelped a second time, much louder, and whipped his hand round, elbowing Tony as he fanned his throbbing, hot hand. “Shit sorry! Are you ok? Cold water, here!” Tony grabbed for his burnt hand and turned towards the sink, frantically turning the tap on and shoving Bruce’s hand into the cold stream. Akira ran around, barking frantically. She stopped when Tony grabbed Bruce’s hand and took him to the sink, instantly calming as her wide eyes followed and her head cocked to one side.

“It’s ok. I-I just got a fright. It’s not bad Tony it’s fine.” Bruce’s cheeks flushed. He swallowed as he looked at Tony holding his hand in the sink, his hands were surprisingly soft for an engineer. His whole body was leaning against Tony as he was held at an awkward angle. His arm entwined with Tony’s vice-like grip as he held his hand in the stream of water, both his hands and arms being soaked as he tried to let the water engulf Bruce’s. He inwardly groaned, he wasn’t having the best luck with awkward situations this week.

“It’s my fault. I didn’t mean to scare you. Do you need anything for it? I don’t even know what’s in he first aid box that can help, a bandage maybe? Or that stuff, what’s it called…witch hazel?” Tony blinked and began to examine Bruce’s hand, pulling it from the stream and turning it around to get a better look. “I mean it’s cold now, should be fine right?”

“It been under cold water, that’s why it’s cold, and witch hazel is for bruises.” Bruce couldn’t help but laugh, despite the panic of the proximity of their positions. The look of helplessness on Tony’s face didn’t fade. “Honestly Tony, it’s fine. I hardly touched it, it won’t amount to anything.”

“You sure? I mean yeah I know you’re the doctor out of us here but I still think you should put something on it, like a cream. Aloe Vera?”

“There’s aloe Vera down here. Tony uses it all the time when he cuts himself.” Akira jumped up, eagerly. She flicked her tail when Bruce spluttered a laugh and Tony huffed.

“You make it sound like that happens a lot.” He grumbled to the happy dog who merely loped her tongue out and bounded away, returning seconds later with a tube gently between her teeth. She jumped up and rested her paws on the table and set the tube down, giving a happy grin to Bruce and then Tony before she set herself back on the floor.

“Ok fine, I’ll put some aloe Vera on it, will that make you happy.” Bruce raised an eyebrow at Tony, a small smile appearing on his face. He was partially embarrassed by how caring Tony was acting.

“Yes.” The billionaire huffed, rolling his eyes dramatically. He was still holding Bruce’s hand, and was showing no signs of letting it go. Instead, his eyes dropped down to the intwined hands with a soft, yet unreadable expression.

Bruce swallowed, the uneasy and awkward feeling creeping back.

Fern, wh-what’s going on?

How am I meant to know, I can’t see properly., Fern chuckled slightly.

She curled around Bruce’s neck, getting comfortable as she watched the scene unfold, purring silently and began grooming Bruce’s hairline. She had sensed Tony coming up behind Bruce but was curious enough to not warn him. When Bruce jumped involuntarily, she had reacted accordingly. She felt partially guilty, but part of her was curious about Tony, and wanted to see the interactions closer. If everything Bruce was telling her was true, well she wanted to test that for herself. She had theories, and she wanted them confirmed or proved wrong.

“I-I can’t do it if you’re holding me.” Bruce awkwardly shrugged his shoulders, eyes lowering and focusing on the tube, anywhere but on Tony. The billionaire seemed to get the message, but he held on for a few seconds more, waiting for Bruce to look back up. He gave a weak smile, and with a light squeeze, let go finally and took a step back out of Bruce’s personal space.

“Yeah, true. Sorry.” Tony shrugged, “I’ll finish the tea.” He darted round the rooted scientist and began bustling around. Bruce blinked a few times as he turned and watched. He took a steadying breath before reaching for the tube and applied the lotion, Fern giving herself a small, confirming smile.

 


 

“Does it matter, Barton?”

“No, it’s just a strange one. Like really strange.”

“You’re the only one that thinks that.”

“Stark does.”

Natasha growled slightly, already fed up with the conversation. She knew Clint could tell but was choosing to ignore that and push it on. All she had wanted was to sit and read a bit of her book in piece. The weather had turned as the day went on and rain was now pouring down. She had been quite looking forward to finishing her training for the day and sitting with her book with the gentle sound of rain. Until Clint appeared of course.

“Do you base everything off of stark now?” She raised an eyebrow but continued to keep her eyes focused on her book. It was just starting to get really interesting now.

“No, but he does have a point with this one. Come on, Nat, it doesn’t add up.” Clint almost whined. She sighed and closed her book quite forcefully, sending a glare to the innocent looking archer.

“No, it doesn’t, but it’s not anyone’s business but Bruce’s.”

“It’s just hard to trust a guy that has secrets, especially on that scale.” Clint mumbled, absentmindedly stroking Repalla’s wing. She chirped almost in agreement, fluffing her feathers out and settling down in Clint’s lap. On the floor at Natasha’s feet, Berlion merely cast a glance at the hawk, resuming his intense groom after a moment.

“You and I both know what it’s like to be poked and prodded when it comes to daemons, so stop doing it to Banner.” Her voice was soft, but sharp at the edges in warning. Clint’s shoulders dropped slightly as he huffed, clearly unhappy with her input to the conversation.

“You know I wouldn’t do that to anyone.” Clint shuddered, his hands immediately going to Repalla’s who responded instantly, pushing herself into him and softly reassuring. When Loki had clawed into his brain, he had felt completely violated. The feeling of Repalla being completely drawn away and being unable to feel her still made him sick to the stomach. He could still feel Loki’s finger, slowly, as if to savour the moment, stroking down her quivering back, twisting her feathers and tapping her beak as she scrambled to get away from him and the cage he had shoved her in.

No, he understood what it felt like, and wouldn’t ever wish it on his worse enemy.

He hadn’t realised he had been shaking until Natasha gently took his hand, carefully of the distressed hawk on his lap. He blinked himself back into the present, forcing the memory out of his head. Berlion had jumped onto Natasha’s lap and Repalla had immediately patted closer, allowing the margay to comfort and preen her feathers soothingly.

“I know. Bruce will talk when he is ready, just as you and I did.” She sounded firm, but not annoyed. Clint merely nodded, still unsure but knowing better than to further raise it.