“Go get your mother.”
There’s a shattering of glass inches from his head. “Are you deaf, you little shit?! I said to get your mother!!”
Bruce shuffles towards his mother’s room- his parents haven’t slept together in four years. As he inches closer towards her door, he tilts his head in confusion; the door doesn’t have a doorknob anymore, the weak metal dented and bent on the ground. He glimpses inside for only a second before stiffening and sharply turning from the door. He starts to walk back only to crash against his father’s leg.
His father looms over him, glass of brandy in one hand and a thin cigarette between the fingers of the other. “I thought I told you to get your mother,” he growls.
Bruce knows he should listen to his dad, but he just can’t do that. “I-I don’t want to,” Bruce whispers. “Something’s wrong.”
His father tilts his head with a mocking smile. “Why?” he hisses. “Little Bruce see something scary? Don’t want to go inside?”
Bruce nods, knowing that there is no point in lying to the man.
His father nods back in mock understanding. “Alright, you don’t have to go inside,” he says, pressing the burning cigarette on Bruce’s arm, watching with a smirk as the little boy cries out, and flicking the butt away when the little shrieks die down. With his free hand, he tangles his hands into Bruce’s wavy locks before shoving towards the hole in the door. “Just look through then.”
Bruce tries to fight him because he really doesn’t want to see, but his hands are so small compared to his father’s and he can’t do anything else other than weakly claw against the tight grip on his hair. What Bruce sees makes his shriek ring out through the house.
“See what you made me do!”
He can’t stop his screams-
“You’ve ruined everything!”
He’s screeching so loudly, so shrilly-
“You monster! You’ve ruined this family! Look what you’ve done!”
He could wake the dead.
“Bruce- Earth to Bruce!”
“Huh?” There’s a hand waving in front of his face; tanned with calluses, it’s obviously Tony’s.
Tony gives a little wink. “Geez, have you even been listening?!” he asks, scratching his stubbled chin. “I was telling everyone here about your phobia-”
“It’s not a phobia,” Bruce grinds out before turning to the other members of the table. “Tony’s overreacting and blowing it completely out of proportion.”
“Not!” his best friend replies with an obnoxious smile. “Like seriously, Bruce is terrified of looking through peepholes; can’t fucking answer the door because of it. He doesn’t want to let strangers in but he can’t look through the spyhole! It’s a good thing I’m there.”
Bruce glares at Tony as he takes a sip of water; his best friend only shrugs, as if to say, we need to entertain these people, before continuing the story. “I mean, you haven’t changed your lenses in, what, six years? All because you hate looking into that machine! You kept saying that you were scared something awful would show up in there!”
Perfect, because those types of stories are what you talk about when you meet people for the first time. If Bruce wasn’t so used to Tony’s bullshit, he’d punch the guy.
“I’m guessing some repressed memory then?” Maria comments with a raised brow, her brown hair in a neat, tight bun; Bruce isn’t too fond of her, despite meeting her only for the first time. Maybe it’s because she just assumes she knows best. “I mean, they say that fear is the most difficult emotion to forget.”
“Well, if you say so,” Bruce says calmly. “I’m sure it’s coming from a reputable source.”
“I am majoring in psychology,” she replies with a tilt of her head.
He wants to ask if she wants an award for such an accomplishment, but just smiles tightly instead.
“Actually, I have a friend that’s renting a flat whose last tenant committed suicide,” Peter says excitedly, his fingers wiggling; the gesture reminds Bruce of a little kid trying to say an impressive ghost story, sort of cute but unnecessary to the story-telling and actually kind of ruining it. “So he’s washing his hair, but then he feels someone behind him, so creepy right?”
Bruce doesn’t know if Peter Parker is trying to make a scary story funny, or if that’s just the way he talks. The others laugh amiably at his excited speech though, so he nods along.
“Anyways, anyways,” the youngest member of their group states. “He’s super freaked and is about to jump around and confront the guy and the he notices on his shoulder-”
There is a sudden warmth on his back, as though someone is behind him.
“A creepy, bony hand! And it’s totally gripping his shoulder.”
There’s a soft thump on his own shoulder; Bruce knows it’s probably someone playing a joke, or Steve, because he was late as hell, but he still snaps his head back with a fierce glare on his face. Steve stares back with wide blue eyes; it’s almost comical how someone so much bigger than him actually flinches at his expression.
“Oh my god Steve,” Tony says with a clap and a laugh. “You have the greatest timing!”
Steve tilts his head in confusion, his blonde hair combed over neatly, looking extremely out of place in the casual restaurant in his black suit. “Why?”
Tony chortles again, like it’s the funniest thing that’s happened tonight. “Just, just a story- this guy’s Peter and he was just-”
“Did something happen?” Bruce asks, cutting Tony off. He gestures to the formalwear with a frown, wondering if his artistic friend had an interview; he had been looking for a new job for months, so Bruce hopes he hadn’t dragged the blonde from other commitments.
“Hope you brought a change of clothes,” Tony adds with a raised brow. “It’s bad enough that you act and talk like you’re from the 40’s; don’t need to stick out even more by dressing like my old man used to when he “went about town”.”
“Oh,” Steve looks down before glaring at Tony for his remark. “A boy from my old high school died, an old teammate from the track team; I was just at the funeral. I did bring extra clothes-” he lifts a paper bag, his muscular arms flexing; Bruce can practically hear the restaurant occupants drool at the sight of Mr. Tall-blonde-and-handsome. “Where’s the washroom?”
Bruce stands as well, brushing his messy curls with long fingers. “It’s over there,” he answers, tilting his chin towards it. “I’ll come with you.”
“Aw, Brucie,” Tony coos, fluttering his eyelashes. “You don’t need to go and hold Steve’s hand; he’s big enough to go to the potty alone.”
“Seriously, Tony? I’m going because I need to use the washroom,” Bruce replies with sigh before smiling mischievously. “Not only that, but even someone like me-”
“With infinite patience,” Steve adds as he smiles behind his hands, knowing where the conversation is leading.
“Need a respite from your bullshit, Tony,” Bruce finishes with a smirk, eliciting laughs from the whole table.
“Ah, my heart!” Bruce hears Tony cry dramatically, probably grabbing at his chest. “My Science-bro is leaving me for a blonde muscle head!”
“Lighten up Steve; it’s not like it’s a lie! You’d need to triple, no, quadruple, your current IQ to even reach mine!”
“Jesus,” Pepper mutters with a roll of her eyes, though she smiles good naturedly, already used to the trio’s antics. “Tony, they’re going pee without you, not running off to elope.”
“Pepper, it’s practically the same thing!”
Bruce rubs his hands under the lukewarm water, mechanically cleaning between his fingers; in the stall behind him, he hears the soft rustle of Steve changing.
“So,” he says, making a foamy lather with the soap. “Do you know how he died?”
He’s glad that they’re the only ones inside; the topic is a bit sensitive.
“Um, he went diving with his friends,” Steve replies, his voice muffled at first as he pulls on his shirt. “And he got split up; by the time he was found, he was already dead, drowned.”
“Oh, wow,” Bruce gasps out, sticking his soapy hands into the water, trying to imagine how it’d feel to drown. His lungs would probably burn at first… would he struggle? Try to fight his way to the surface? Maybe he’d just lose consciousness? Would it be like falling asleep by the end?
He shakes his head sharply, that train of thought was getting a little too dark. “Were…were you close?” Bruce asks instead, walking towards the paper towels, trying to get the thought of a watery grave out of his mind.
Steve shrugs. “We weren’t particularly close,” the track star admits. “But, he was an underclassman and he trained in discus as well. And it’s just that… he was still in high school; he had his whole life ahead of him and then this happened.”
He hums in reply, not knowing quite what to say. Bruce knows not to comment on the clichés in Steve’s last phrase; it’s just the way his friend is and there’s no point in being a dick. The dull brown paper towel is scratchy on his skin, and Bruce wishes that they’d install hand driers instead. Soon, a comfortable silence fills the room; there’s only the crinkle of the disposable towel and the rustle of clothing as the duo get lost in their own thoughts.
A soft tune brings Bruce out of his reverie; it sounds like a music box lullaby, a soft xylophone. He turns to see Steve’s phone, the sleek, black one Tony bought him after he had seen the ancient, bulky phone the blonde used to own, flashing in time with the ringtone.
“Steve, phone call for you,” Bruce calls out, tossing the soggy paper towel in the trash and walking over to the counter.
“What? That’s not my ringtone,” Steve answers, walking out in a blue and white checkered button up and navy jeans. The call ends abruptly as he comes out of the stall, his paper bag bulging from the suit that’s been shoved inside. “Actually…It might be… Tony could have changed my ringtone; I would have no way of knowing. Who’s it from?”
Bruce picks up the phone. “Don’t know,” he admits, pushing up his glasses and passing the phone to the taller male. “Just says the number.”
Steve’s eyebrows furrow as he stares at the glowing screen. “Hey Bruce, can a phone call itself?” he asks before dialing voicemail. “Whatever, I’ll just check it.”
Bruce gestures to his ear and Steve complies, clicking speaker phone.
“You have one new voice message,” the robotic voice blurbs. “from Steve Rogers…Recorded May, eighteenth… at ten oh five pm…”
“What?” Bruce’s brown eyes narrow. “It’s only the 14th today.”
Steve shrugs his shoulders again and gives him a puzzled expression.
“To review your messages, press one one…to delete-” Steve presses the one key, his face exuding confusion.
“First new message………” the robotic tone abruptly changes to the soft tenor of Steve’s voice, the sound of clanking in the background. “God, the one time I forget an umbrella……….”
There’s a soft hissing sound, or maybe a sigh… followed by a gasp, and a scream that echoes in the small washroom. The duo stands frozen as the scream cuts off, unsure what the hell they just listened to; Steve turns to him with a smile but his hands shakes.
“Hey, Bruce? You think Tony’s pranking me?” he asks, his cerulean eyes searching for reassurance.
Bruce smiles softly, though it doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “If anyone could do it, it’d be Tony.”
“God, the one time I forget an umbrella…” Tony’s brows are furrowed as he listens to the message.
“Can a phone even call itself?” Maria asks with a skeptical frown.
Pepper hums thoughtfully. “Maybe on a delay?”
“Yea, but the 18th is four days from now,” Tony answers with a snort, passing the phone back to Steve. “But that’s your voice, Steve.”
“Don’t be silly,” Steve shoots back with a laugh, slipping his phone into his pocket. “How can it be mine?”
“It might just be your provider,” Bruce reassures. “Just go talk to them in the morning.”
Peter elbows him with a wink. “Maybe your girlfriend is playing a joke on you??”
Tony burst into laughter. “If that was true, Steve wouldn’t be here!”
Everyone else joins, breaking the tense atmosphere that had choked the table.
“Oh, hey, hey! Enough talks about weird phones!” Peter says excitedly. “Let’s go on a camping trip next time; a friend of mine has a cabin up by Mount St.Helens! I think we can all use a break from school!”
The whole table bustles with excitement. Peter whoops and writes his number on a napkin. “Add my number,” he says. “Oh, and what’s yours?”
Everyone exchanges phones and passes around the paper with numbers scrawled on it, all planning for a relaxing camping trip; Bruce, not too fond of the outdoors, stares off into space, only for a tapping on his arm to bring him out of it.
He sees Gwen, tilting her head, strawberry blonde locks falling across her face. “You too, Bruce,” she says, whipping her phone in front of him.
“What?” he asks, blowing at the persistent curl covering his face.
“I actually don’t have a cell phone,” Bruce replies, shrugging self-consciously.
“Are you joking?” Peter asks with wide eyes, as though Bruce is some sort of rare, exotic creature. “How… how do you survive?!”
“I survive just fine; I don’t really need it,” he explains to the table, though he can see Tony giving him a look from the corner of his eye. “I mean, I don’t go out very much and when I do go out, it’s mostly because Tony drags me there. If people really need to talk to me, they normally just call Tony; I have a house phone but…”
“See how sad that is?” Tony cuts in with a wave of his hand. “He’s best friends with a technological genius and he still refuses to get a cell! I have fought tooth and nail trying to get this guy to get a cell to no avail!”
The table laughs and the topic moves on to more frivolous things.
Clint pulls on the white latex gloves, the surface squeaking as it slides onto his hand. The body on the steel table is relatively new; came in 12 hours ago.
“Gabe Jones, 18, male,” Clint mutters to himself, peeling the sheet back to only show the face. His fingers grasp the body’s chin, prying the mouth open with some difficulty.
“Mr. Barton,” a deep voice cuts through the silence of the morgue. “What might you be doing?”
Clint tenses before turning to face the chief of police. “Mr. Fury,” he turns to face the one-eyed officer, pulling the gloves off with a snap. “Nothing much.”
“As the Diener, it’s your job to look over the corpses, Mr. Barton,” Fury states tersely. “However, it does not give you the right to undergo your own investigation.”
Clint narrows his blue eyes, tilting his head in a defiant manner. “It is my job to look over the body for any damages, or irregularities.”
Fury’s expression remains blank. “The police will be taking this body into custody,” he says, looking down at the body of the teenager. “The cause of death is in need of investigation.”
Fury walks forwards before putting a firm hand on Clint’s shoulder. “Mr. Barton,” he states, his one eye boring intensely into the other’s. “I’m aware that you feel your sister’s death was not properly investigated, and I apologize if that’s what you think. However, you are treading on a path that you shouldn’t be a part of. Don’t interfere with the investigation, Mr. Barton.”
Clint pulls himself back, nodding stiffly back at the policeman. “I’ll prepare the papers for the transfer,” he says, ignoring Fury’s warnings, walking from the room in long strides.
“This isn’t a game, Barton,” Fury calls out to the retreating figure of the morgue curator, who continues walking without looking back. The officer sighs and glances down at the youthful face of the deceased, before his sharp eye focuses on the open mouth.
On the graying tongue is a perfectly round jawbreaker, bright red against the sallow complexion.
Bruce really wishes that Tony hadn’t forced him to come; the dinner was alright and the people seemed nice but now he’s sober and bored and trying to stop Tony from collapsing into a heap. Steve’s also equally sober and bored, but that’s because his alcohol tolerance is incredible, literally something out of legend, so he doesn’t bother drinking anymore. Bruce and Steve hold Tony up from either side, stumbling towards the parking lot of the bar.
When the duo has safely deposited Tony on the passenger seat, Bruce turns to the blonde.
“Thanks Steve,” Bruce says, closing the door shut with a soft click. “I wouldn’t have been able to bring him on my own.”
“No worries,” Steve replies with a smile. “My motorcycle’s right there, so…”
Bruce nods with a smile. “See you on Monday?”
“Yup, see you.”
Bruce turns to walk around to the driver side when Steve calls out. “Hey, Bruce?” he says, smiling sheepishly.
Steve rubs the back of his neck, a habit he still hasn’t been able to get rid of since high school. “You don’t… You don’t really think that was my voice, do you?” he asks, his brows furrowed.
Bruce watches as Steve curls into himself, reminiscent of the willowy, sickly boy that he had been when Bruce first met him. He smiles as steps towards his friend, wrapping his arms around the blonde’s back and pulling himself close, folding himself into the warmth of Steve’s embrace.
“Don’t worry,” he murmurs, moving his hands in soothing circles on the blonde’s tense back. “Nothing’s going to happen.”
Someone barrels in between them, throwing an arm on each side. “Wha-what are you getting all chummy without me for?” Tony slurs, pulling the other two into a tight embrace.
“Just worried about some superstition,” Steve admits with a weak chuckle, his head on top of Tony’s.
“Fuck that,” Tony replies. “We’ll protect you… with science! I mean, we’re like the three musketeers, nothing will separate us!”
“Like Tony said, we’ll look out for each other,” Bruce says, voice muffled against Steve’s chest and Tony’s arm.
The trio gathers together under the weak florescent light of the parking lot, the smell of scotch wafting between them like a seal of protection.