The tea is cold. It’s cloyingly sweet when it isn’t hot, and Bruce grimaces as it splashes against his tongue. That’s not going to do. He clicks a few buttons on the keyboard to begin running the program to compile his latest results before he turns to make a new pot of tea. He’s grateful for the machine Tony built for him that heats even the most delicate of flavors perfectly, but he’s annoyed when it fails to light up after he fills it with water and tea. After checking to make sure it’s plugged in, he gets a sinking sensation that maybe it’s just broken.
“Damn.” He’s going to have to go all the way upstairs to get more tea, and that’s not going to happen. It’s not being lazy so much as being productive. If he stops his current research track, it’s going to mess with his focus. Rubbing a hand over his face, he decides to make do with the cold tea for now. When he looks at the computer screens hanging around his lab table, he frowns as he notices that the data isn’t moving. It’s as if everything’s frozen.
“JARVIS, could you help me figure out what’s wrong with the system?” he asks hesitantly. It might have been nearly a year since he moved in with Tony and was given a lab that’s like something out of a geek’s wet dream, but he’s still not entirely comfortable asking for anything, especially not from JARVIS, who is so busy looking after Tony and the rest of the team.
“I already know what is wrong with the system, Doctor Banner,” JARVIS informs him in a tone that sounds almost smug. Bruce hadn’t even realized artificial intelligence could actually show emotions until he met JARVIS, but he mostly blames Tony for that because who else would program an AI to be sarcastic and smug?
Bruce waits a moment before he pushes his glasses up to the top of his head and pinches the bridge of his nose. “JARVIS, what is wrong with the system?”
“I have accepted the task of monitoring your time in the lab during Master Clint’s absence, and he instructed me to ensure that you take breaks and eat meals while he is away. After analysis, I decided controlling your electronics was the best way to fulfill my promise to Master Clint.”
“Wait. You’re telling me that Clint asked you to look after me?” Bruce isn’t sure if he’s more annoyed or bemused at that idea.
“Of course, Doctor Banner. Master Clint knows that I am fully capable of monitoring his loved ones in order to guarantee that they do not miss meals from working too hard. While I certainly do not fill the empty space that he has left during his assignment, I will do my best to make him proud.”
Sometimes, Bruce really wonders how Tony feels about his AI doting on Clint so much. Clint thinks it’s sweet and doesn’t take advantage of it from he’s seen, but he’d bet anything that Tony doesn’t think it’s adorable. Though, it is Tony, so maybe he does. He’s an odd man, after all. That much is clear from how he so fully embraced Bruce and the big guy even before the Avengers decided to be a team for more than a one off to save Manhattan from crazy Gods with family issues.
“I’m sure he’ll be proud,” he mutters, because Clint probably will be insufferable when he finds out JARVIS actually took what was probably a wiseass remark seriously. “When can I get control of my electronics back? Does that include my tea maker?”
“If you make more tea, you will remain in the lab, and that would defeat Master Clint’s wish for you to socialize and take care of yourself while he is away and unable to confirm that you are having an appropriate amount of meals and interaction with others.”
“I think I need to have a chat with Clint when he gets back about being a fussy bossy asshole,” Bruce says, speaking low enough that JARVIS won’t hear him insult Clint. When he realizes what he’s doing, he rubs his hand over his face. Life is definitely different than it was a year ago, and not just because he’s managed to reach an inner peace with the big guy that he’s never had before. Being part of a family with supportive teammates who help him face his own demons can do wonders, he’s learned; even if they make him paranoid about offending an AI.
JARVIS interrupts Bruce’s contemplation of life and the world. “Master Clint asked me to compile a list of possible activities for you to choose from whenever you reached a point that required me to urge you out of the lab. Based on my observations of others, I believe this might be the most appropriate for your afternoon.”
Okay, so maybe Clint’s more meddling than Bruce gave him credit for being because a list of things to do is more than a wiseass comment. They should probably have a talk about Tony’s mom and dad comments being an attempt at comedy and not something that should actually be taken to heart. Of course, it might be tough to do that when Bruce is actually feeling sort of warm and fuzzy about Clint caring enough to worry about him getting caught up in the lab for too long.
Besides, Hulk loves Clint, for some odd reason, but maybe it isn’t so odd because everyone who spends much time with him seems to become a fan. He’s not sure why, but Clint’s just got an easy charm that people seem to find appealing. Hell, the guy managed to snag Captain America, much to the dismay and heartbreak of women around the world. Steve’s got that likability thing, too, so they’re a lethal combination. Not even Natasha can resist their efforts when they join forces, and she’s one of the strongest people Bruce has ever seen. If Steve and Clint ever went rogue, they’d be able to teach all these villains how to properly rule the world and probably be thanked for it by everyone.
“What are the chances of Steve and Clint turning evil and taking over the world?” he asks curiously, unable to stop himself even as he cringes when he realizes he actually verbalized that thought.
“Currently, the odds are 23.6%, though that percentage is likely to rise or fall depending on a multitude of variables. I have analyzed the question for Sir previously and will send the data to your computer after you have taken the necessary break that Master Clint believes you should include in your day.”
“Oh well then.” Bruce actually isn’t surprised that Tony’s analyzed that, and he figures there are probably similar projections for each of them separately, too. Tony might have opened up his own and life for them, but he’s not a stupid man by any means. He clears his throat and asks, “Do you know the chances of a takeover attempt by those two succeeding?”
“Frighteningly high, Doctor Banner. Sir believes it is best to indulge Captain’s old-fashioned heroics in order to prevent such an occurrence from happening.” JARVIS sends something to the computer screen closest to Bruce. “This is the activity that I believe would be the most suitable for the afternoon. Captain is in need of fresh air, too, so perhaps you should invite him along.”
“Disc golf?” Bruce rolls his eyes. It’s certainly a sport tailor-made for Steve, but it’s also something he might enjoy, which means Clint’s definitely too observant. “Fine. Send that map to my phone, would you? Where’s Steve at?”
“It has been sent. Captain is in their apartment on the balcony. Would you like for me to notify him of your wish to see him?” JARVIS asks.
“No, I’ll go surprise him.” Bruce figures Steve’s feeling a little lost by now and would welcome the company anyway. Clint isn’t often called away from home for work, but he’s on a retreat with new recruits for Fury that’s going to have him gone for four days. This is only day two, but things in the tower are strange because Thor is also gone on a visit home to see his parents.
Bruce has to wonder if the whole group of them isn’t becoming too dependent on each other when it’s weird when one or more of them are gone for an extended period of time. They all have their own living spaces and do actually go days without everyone hanging out together, but it’s different when two of them are actually away and not available for late night snacks or random chats on the roof. When Pepper had a string of meetings in Europe a couple of months ago and during the overnight assignments Natasha still goes on sometimes, there was a similar aura, but it’s worse now with it being two of them gone at the same time.
It might be worse for him right now because the big guy always gets a little edgy when Clint and Thor aren’t around. Clint might be the big guy’s favorite, but Thor’s a close second, so it’s like a two for one of nervous energy inside of him right now. It shows how far he’s come, though, that he’s able to recognize what the big guy’s feeling and handle it. It’s meant a lot that they all helped him accept who he is and what he’s got sharing his space, even if he still separates that part of himself from whom he feels he is normally. It’s easier that way, and it is a different personality for all intents and purposes even if they’re both Bruce. The fact that his whole team acknowledges that and can still believe in him might help with his own self-acceptance, too.
After stopping at his room to wash up and change into something more comfortable for disc golf, Bruce heads downstairs to the floor that houses Clint and Steve’s apartment. When he rings the bell, his lips quirk slightly at the sound of the opening strains of In the Mood that Tony programmed as their doorbell chime. He pushes it again just to hear the trumpets.
“Were you shaking your butt?” Steve asks when he opens the door. He arches a brow and gives Bruce that look that makes it difficult to lie.
“No, I was shifting my weight.” It might be difficult, but Bruce can manage it sometimes. “You look tired, Steve.”
“I didn’t sleep very well last night. I’m no longer used to sleeping alone, and the bed felt too empty.” Steve shrugs a shoulder. “Jane and Natasha came over and we watched a series of films about a crazy guy in a hockey mask who never seemed to die no matter how the scantily dressed teens attempted to kill him. I can’t really believe people actually enjoy those types of films, and the overarching theme that promiscuity will result in a violent death is heavy-handed and ridiculous.”
“Are you really dissecting the plot and theme of the Friday the 13th films?” Bruce manages not to smile, but it’s tough. “Some people like scary movies because they view them as escapist and the bad guy usually dies. Personally, I find documentaries more frightening. The things we do to ourselves and each other in this crazy world are a lot scarier.”
“That’s certainly true. Did you want to come in? I’ve been sketching this morning, so I could use a break.”
“Actually, a well-meaning friend suggested that I take a break and get some fresh air. I thought I’d ask if you’d like to come along.”
Steve considers it and nods. “I think that’d be good. I went for a jog this morning, but I wouldn’t mind getting out. What do you have in mind?”
“Disc golf. Have you and Clint played before? He seems to think I’ll find it fun,” Bruce explains. “JARVIS sent a map to my phone, so we just have to get to Prospect Park then we can play.”
“I’ve never heard of it. I know about golf, though. Looks pretty boring,” Steve admits. “I’m surprised Clint would think that was fun. Do we need anything to play?”
“It’s not like golf, really, but it is. It uses a disc instead of a ball. I’ve never played, but I’ve heard about it.” Bruce pulls his glasses off the top of his head and slides them on. “I didn’t consider equipment. JARVIS, do we need to buy equipment?”
“You will need equipment, Doctor Banner. Fortunately, Master Clint had me order it several weeks ago. He intended to suggest a team bonding activity, I believe, but he thinks you would both enjoy the activity while he is away on the classified assignment,” JARVIS replies. “You will find the needed equipment in the closet of the gym. I understand that he has labeled the bag appropriately.”
“Your boyfriend is pretty bossy,” Bruce says, arching a brow at Steve and smiling slightly.
Steve grins. “Yes, he can be, but so can I. Let me change real quick then I’ll be ready to go.”
“While you do that, I’ll go grab the bag. Meet you back here in five minutes, give or take a few.”
“Actually, meet me in the kitchen. I’ll make us some sandwiches to take so we can have lunch if we want,” Steve says. “I found a recipe for a chickpea salad sandwich I can make for you pretty quickly that I think you might like, or would you rather have a wrap?”
“Oh I don’t want to be any trouble. Anything with cheese and veggies is good for me.” Bruce isn’t sure if he’ll ever adjust to the fact that Steve accommodates his vegetarian diet no matter what he makes for them to eat, or the way the others have followed his lead and always have something on hand that doesn’t have meat or products that Bruce tries to keep out of his diet.
Steve rolls his eyes. “It’s no trouble, Bruce. I’ll try the chickpea salad. I think it could be a good choice. If I didn’t have the appetite of several men, especially if we’re going to be exercising, I’d try it, but I need meat.”
“Clint’s probably glad that you like meat,” he deadpans, watching Steve’s face as he quirks a brow then figures out what Bruce means.
“Clint’s very satisfied with my fondness for his meat.” Steve smirks before swatting Bruce on the hip. “Now get. I’ll meet you upstairs in five minutes.”
Bruce laughs as he walks back to the elevator and pushes the button for the gym floor. Maybe Clint is meddling, even far away in an undisclosed location, but it’s nice to know someone cares enough to make the effort. It’s the first time in all his life that Bruce feels like he’s able to truly depend on other people to love him unconditionally, who can be scared of the other guy yet fearless in their loyalty to him, who look at him and open their arms and welcome him into their lives, who smile at him and call him family.