Bruce was an old-fashioned kind of guy. He opened doors for pregnant ladies and gave up his seat on busses to the elderly. He never let phone calls go to voicemail when he could pick them up. And every morning, he read the paper -- the actual printed-on-newsprint paper -- while he sipped a mug of obscure herbal tea and nibbled at his breakfast of two pieces of peanut butter and jelly toast, open-faced, on rye, plus a grapefruit, no sugar. Every morning.
Routine was good. Routine was his friend. It soothed the Hulk, smoothed the edges of each unpredictable day. When he’d been on his own, on the run, he’d pushed against the constant stress of uncertainty by building rituals around everything he could -- meals, sleep, shopping, even all the little things he did every day to stay under the radar -- and then sticking to them rigidly.
In some ways, life in the Avengers Tower was calmer than life on the run.
In other ways it was not calm at all. Like the ways where Bruce was living with a crazed genius fake-narcissist flyboy, two overly literal blond icons, and a dude who shot things with arrows and sometimes joined conversations by dropping down casually from the ceiling, where he was hanging from... something Bruce hasn’t figured out yet and probably doesn’t want to know.
So Bruce kept his routines, even though he took some teasing for it. After all, if Captain America could read the Huffington Post on his StarkPhone, couldn’t Bruce suck it up and stop killing trees for the privilege of staining his fingers black with ink while he paged through the world news section of the New York Times?
“Bruce, you’d love it,” Tony argued, snatching the Times away and shoving his StarkPhone in Bruce’s face on one of the few mornings he’s up at a reasonable time for breakfast. “See, when the article cites stats or quotes someone or stuff like that, there’s a hyperlink to the source, so you can follow the trail. And the pictures are better, obvs. And then at the bottom, you can read what other people are saying about the topic, get some perspective, like a public forum.” His eyes skim the top comments. “Like here, this guy’s a pet owner, he’s been lobbying on that ordinance, he’s explaining his side a little more. And then below him... hey now, that’s pretty rude! Well, just ignore shit like that, the internet’s the internet and the crazies will come, ya know?”
Bruce shrugged skeptically. “I don’t know, Tony, it seems like pretty much the same stories to me. If people have more to say, they can always just write a letter to the editor. I always read the op-ed page.”
“No, really,” Tony insisted. “I promise, it’s a whole new experience.”
Bruce sighed. Tony gripped the crumpled Times a little tighter.
“Fine,” Bruce said. “Hand over the phone. My tea is getting cold.”
He was no newbie on the phone, he just didn’t normally use it for news. He toggled to the next story, something on a new initiative to fight child hunger worldwide. The article was interesting, if a bit facile. He scrolled down to the comments.
The first was meaningless, a one-line hurrah for fighting hunger. Like anyone would be against fighting hunger.
Except... the second commenter seemed pretty anti-... well, anti-everything. Anti-humanity. Bruce felt his heartbeat start to rise and tamped down on his gut reaction to the ignorant words. Just some guy at a computer, he reminded himself.
Maybe comments weren’t his thing.
He kept reading.
The third comment was a wholesale bashing of the second, and Bruce agreed with the points, mostly, though he could have done without the profanity.
Honestly, this was a little stressful.
But he had to know what people were saying. Maybe someone could end the argument, say the perfect thing, convince everyone to work together...
He kept reading, breathing a little faster.
Three minutes later, Tony leaped out of his seat, coffee flying into his hair, when the chair that had been holding Bruce -- quiet, restful Bruce with his boring morning routine and calming herbal team and dorky news-reading -- exploded outward.
“What the...” Bruce was saying, his voice twisted and deep, and then “HULK SMASH,” the Other Guy roared, and brought a huge green fist down on the table, hitting, with perfect precision, what had been a prototype of the latest in StarkPhone technology.
When Bruce came to, he was lying amid the wreckage of breakfast, shards of peanut-butter-smeared StarkPhone scattered throughout the jagged remains of the table.
He bolted upright. “Shit shit shit.” Tony’s head peeked out from the next room. “Are you ok? Is anyone hurt?”
“No injuries,” Tony said without hesitation. “To me or anyone else.” Dummy whirred out from behind Tony’s knee, and started ineffectually cleaning.
“Thank God.” Bruce slumped back against the kitchen cabinets, grateful when Tony threw him a robe but too tired to actually catch it. “Thanks. Sorry about... ah, that.”
“Buddy, what the hell did you read on that thing?”
Bruce sighed. “I don’t know. People. On the internet. All of a sudden it was too much.”
Tony looked thoughtful. “They do make me want to throw the phone at the wall sometimes,” he admitted, then glared at Bruce. “But I don’t. Because it’s not the machine’s fault.” Dummy chirped plaintively. Tony patted its... appendage. Head. Part. “So. Internet commenters. Hulk. Bad combo.”
“Apparently so,” Bruce said expressively.
“Internet commenters,” Tony said again, and shook his head. “The most destructive individual force the earth has ever known could be unleashed by... internet commenters.”
“They know not what they do,” Bruce responded, striving for wry but sounding a little too... angry.
“Internet commenters,” Tony repeated one last time. “Well, fuck me.” And he headed to the lab.
The next day, Bruce’s newspaper was waiting for him at the table as usual.
The last page of the business section reported that Stark Industries had started buying up defunct print news organizations. “The newspaper is a dying art,” a spokesman for SI was quoted as saying, “but one that is essential to the continuing health of this nation.”
He could keep his routine as long as he needed.