Just a Big Ol' Paperweight
The Demi-God looked up from his reading. He was starting to really like the classics such as Odysseus and had been reading them in his spare time. Bruce was standing in the doorway of the library in pyjamas and stockinged feet.
“Could you do me a favour and find a place for this other than the corridor?”
Thor’s eyes widened and then he stood up to full height. He stepped forward towards Bruce whose stepped back in alarm. Thor looked like he was ready to punch him.
“Dr Banner,” and then he did the last thing Bruce expected.
He bowed before him.
“Uh… what? Um… sorry.”
And Bruce carefully put Thor’s hammer back down on the ground by his feet. Thor lifted his face but his bow remained deep.
“Dr Banner, you can lift mighty Mjölnir.”
“You are worthy of its power.” Thor lowered his head to the ground.
Bruce put his hands up in surrender. “Woah, no. That’s you gig. You’re the God of Thunder and… whatever.”
“And now those powers, it seems, belong to you.”
“I’ll never understand modern entertainment.”
Tony glanced over at Steve who was punching the TV remote like it was an irritable bug he was trying to squash.
“You just haven’t found the right show,” Tony said. He grabbed the remote from Steve and started flicking.
“Your preaching to the choir, Cap,” Clint said from his perch at the back of the room. “I stopped watching it years ago and it didn’t even make sense then.”
“Would you stop bowing? Thor, seriously, you’re starting to freak me out.”
All eyes turned to Bruce who was walking into the room backwards, followed closely by Thor who put his fist to his heart and bent down on one knee before him.
“What’s up, Jade Jaws?”
“It’s Thor. He keeps saying—”
“Dr Banner is able to wield Mjölnir, therefore he is worthy of the power of Thor. I bow down to him as a mark of deep respect and that I honour Mjölnir’s choice of a new master.”
“And I keep telling him that’s bullshit!” Bruce sounded a little hysterical.
“You can?” Natasha asked. “Wow. I tried lifting that thing once and it wouldn’t budge.”
“Yeah, I tried in my suit,” Tony said, “and even with everything focused on lifting at 300% capacity it blew apart my armour.”
“Do it!” Clint said. “Lift it up.”
Bruce was never comfortable when all eyes were on him, and he was especially uncomfortable when everyone wanted him to do something at will. It usually meant they wanted him to get out his party trick.
Mjölnir sprang into Thor’s outstretched hand and he stood up, holding it out for Bruce to take. He looked around the room and then sighed as he took it from Thor easily. It was heavy but he could hold it by his side like it was nothing special.
“Holy shitballs,” Tony said.
“Dr Banner is worthy of the hammer, forged from a dying star and all its powers.”
“No, I’m not!”
“I give unto you mighty Mjölnir and pray you use it in battle and in times of rebuilding to bring peace to all realms.”
“Wait,” Natasha said just as Bruce opened his mouth to shout another protest. “Hulk couldn’t lift the hammer. Remember in the Helicarrier? Thor, you saw him try it.”
Thor looked puzzled. “This is true.”
“Do you see armour suddenly forging onto my body and a big cape with massive shoulder pads?” Bruce asked, waving his arms. Everyone looked over the doctor in his ruffled striped pyjamas and socks. “I’m not… worthy, or whatever.”
“Then how come you can hold it?” Steve asked.
“Maybe because it’s confused by someone who has a fuckload of inner strength that can come out on command,” Tony tried.
“But Mjorlnir decides its master by more than strength,” Thor said. “I was told it will select the bravest and most selfless of men.”
All eyes were on Bruce again. He set the hammer down on the ground by the doorway.
“Look. I don’t know why I can pick it up but it means nothing. Thor, you’re the God of Thunder. It’s yours, I insist. I’m sorry I touched your stuff, just please don’t leave it by my door where I’m going to stub my toe, okay?”
Thor nodded. “Thank you, Dr Banner. I realise what a burden relinquishing this power must be.”
Bruce raised his hands as if shrugging in defeat and walked back to his bedroom.
Got Your Back
He had been running for over fifteen days, ever since he got word there were foreign military folks sniffing around the village. Bruce had actually taken a page out of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s book and paid a bunch of kids to let him know of anything suspicious. A little girl had come running into the hospital-come-shelter and Bruce gave her most of his food before fleeing, trying not to think about the patients he had left behind. People had travelled miles, some leaving their whole livelihoods just for the most basic of medical treatment. He hoped the rest of the volunteers would be okay without him.
He travelled on foot, only catching a lift when the person driving offered to drive him to the next village and no further. Long rides were dangerous. He didn’t know the area that well and he could well end up right in Ross’s hands. Bruce would talk briefly with no specifics. So long as they were headed for the coast, he didn’t care.
His food rations were running low by day nine. By day twelve, he was scavenging. It felt almost nostalgic - he hadn’t had to do so in years.
This is what I get for refusing payments from patients, he thought to himself wryly as he checked the back of a greasy spoon for anything palatable. His stomach was already churning angrily from running on an empty stomach, and his low water supply wasn’t making it any easier.
By day fifteen, he was having to slow down far too often. He didn’t know if he was vomiting from food poisoning or dehydration but either way, he needed medical aid. He hadn’t even thought to put together a kit when he left the hospital - the people there needed it far more than he did.
That may be true, but he dreaded the thought of getting so sick he wouldn’t be able to stop, of even worse, he would need the Hulk to intervene.
Placing his thin sleeping bag behind a rock far enough away from the side of a dusty road, he tried his best to sleep with a bad fever and even worse paranoia. Every noise seemed to boom through his head - he bolted upright every time a car drove past. He finally fell asleep when it was nearing dawn, still terrified that this rest would give General Ross the chance to catch up with him. It didn’t dare thinking about.
The sunlight was trying to burn his eyes when he woke up. The inside of his mouth tasted of sand and he felt too weak to move.
“Good morning, Dr Banner.”
There was every instinct to run, like cold ice running through his veins. His eyes wouldn’t adjust to the light and he scrambled away as best he could when he felt so sick.
As if Ross would wake me, finally the rational part of his brain said calmly. Bruce rubbed his eyes and saw Tony Stark in front of him, grinning and holding out his hand.
“You look like shit,” Tony informed him.
“You look like a douchebag,” Bruce replied smoothly. Of course Tony would turn up in the middle of the Thar Desert in a suit.
Tony pulled Bruce to his feet, his hand firmly holding onto Bruce’s arm even when Bruce had found his balance. He knew he had to look worse than shit if he was that worried.
“How did you find me?”
“Same as always. Gamma-tracer. Information about the military chasing an ‘unclassified menace’. Guessing which of the biggest shit-holes on the planet you’d be hiding in.”
“Water?” Bruce accepted the bottle and drank it all, barely stopping for breath. “The jet is nearby. How about dinner and a movie?”
“Ross will know you saved me.”
“Well he’s not invited on our date. And it’s not saving, it’s just lucky timing I wanted to see how you were getting on without me again.”
Bruce grinned. “Just peachy, thanks.”
When Bruce finally had a normal routine to his life (no running, no hiding, no sleeping rough, no eating out of trash), he embraced it wholeheartedly. He woke up every day at 6am, have a light breakfast, go workout, shower, then work a full day down in the labs like he was punching a time card in and out. He would have an hours lunch at one pm and after work settle down with whichever of the Avengers were currently home for dinner. He would watch movies, read, meditate then go to bed early. Sometimes Tony would join him and other times he would be up at all hours working. Either way, Bruce got his eight hours.
His diet was completely vegan, nutritiously balanced and he drank his eight glasses of water every day. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, his coffee was always decaffeinated and, as far as everyone else was concerned, he was as close to saintly-hood as it was possible to be.
Because of this, Bruce was the butt of many of Tony’s jokes. He would say Bruce would only eat foods that didn’t cast a shadow, that Bruce was inventing ‘diet water’ in his lab and nobody dare touch Bruce’s rice cakes or he would Hulk out.
“Alright, who drank all the rice milk?” Tony said loudly one morning as everyone stood around the kitchen eating breakfast. “Clint, was it you? I know you can’t get enough of it.”
“Hah hah,” Bruce said, grabbing the carton off of him. “At least I don’t think whiskey is a flavour for porridge.”
“No, but that sounds like an excellent idea…”
There was one exception to Bruce’s extreme regime that he thought was fair enough given the circumstances. He let himself have one day after Hulking out to eat whatever the fuck he wanted. He would sneak into the kitchen and bake massive cakes, blend up every flavour of ice-cream together complete with everything that would be considered a topping, eat cookie dough straight from the tube, combine all the sugary cereals in a salad bowl with full fat milk - he would even invent new recipes that consisted of an insane amount of chocolate. If people were about to witness this flaw in his diet, he would just go to the nearest diner and order the entire dessert menu with extra thick shakes to wash it down.
Then the next day he would go back to his regular routine.
After one of the most ferocious battles between the Avengers and a common enemy, Bruce didn’t even wait until everyone else was occupied. Still holding up his ripped trousers in one hand, the rest of the group watched as he started to pull out ingredients from the well-stocked cupboards.
“Uh, Bruce? What ‘cha doing?” Steve asked.
“Making cookies,” he replied simply.
“Vegan cookies?” Natasha asked curiously, spotting the stick of butter he was cutting into cubes.
“Nope. I’m thinking… triple chocolate. With chocolate on top. And sprinkles.”
“That sounds unholy,” Clint said.
Bruce just shrugged and got to work creaming the butter and sugars.
“Tony, did you know your boyfriend is a secret sugar addict?”
Tony had just taken off the Iron Man suit and had walked into the kitchen with an icepack pressed on his shoulder. “No… Bruce, why are you eating like you’re at a five year-old birthday party?”
“Because I just transformed into an enormous green rage monster, battled a giant squid and stopped a bridge from collapsing,” he said over the sound of the beaters. He began chopping up massive chunks of chocolate and candy bars. “And the Hulk likes sugar, which means I like sugar for a time.”
“You’re going to be bouncing off the walls,” Clint said, looking impressed. Bruce was cramming some of the chocolate pieces into his mouth as he continued to mix.
“I usually just sleep it off. Here,” and he held out the bowl for them to try his concoction. Thor was the only one to step forward, plunging his finger into the goo and then sucking it clean.
“Tis nectar from the gods,” he proclaimed then tried to grab some more. Bruce pulled the bowl away.
“Nuh uh. Mine.” He then looked at the bowl, then at the oven, as if calculating how long it would take for the cookies to bake. He shrugged and started to spoon the mixture into his mouth.
Everyone looked on in amazement as after the cookie dough was finished he made a banana sundae with more toppings than ice-cream or banana, baked a chocolate marble cheesecake and then ate roll-out icing straight from the packet.
Which gave Tony an idea.
A battle was fought, and this time Iron Man was the one to fly to the Hulk and see if he was ready to turn back yet.
“Hey there Big Guy,” he said.
Hulk turned to him, ready to fight again. When he saw it was just the Tin Man his fists unclenched.
“Are you ready to bring Bruce back?”
Hulk looked sad for a moment. This time always came and he never liked being crammed back into the puny man’s body.
“Or would you like something to eat?”
Hulk’s eyes lit up. “Food?”
“I hear you like candy. And cake. And cookies. And… pretty much everything Bruce shouldn’t be eating.”
“Other guy don’t like candy,” Hulk said morosely.
“Well you do, so come on, it’s my treat.”
The rest of the Avengers wondered if Tony and Bruce were okay and were amazed when they tracked them down by the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park. The Hulk was sharing with Iron Man what looked like a bucket of gelato and several dozen cupcakes.
“I thought he could use a treat,” Tony explained to the others as they tried to hold in their laughter.
“Hulk share ice-cream!” Hulk yelled and shoved the bucket in their direction.
“Yeah, another bucket please!” Tony ordered the guy working the ice-cream stand nearby. “And more toppings. Lots more. In fact, someone run to the Herseys store and buy out their entire stock.”
When Bruce was brought back (the Hulk was too happy to stop him), he found he was sitting in the afternoon sun, covered in ice-cream and the collected crumbs of other sweet foods. He looked around worriedly and saw his team-mates were all enjoying a cone themselves and looking at him like he was the butt of one hell of a joke.
“Did I miss a battle with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow?” he asked blankly.
“Ice cream?” Clint asked sweetly, holding out his cone.
Bruce’s face blanched. “Ugh, no… In fact, nobody eat sugar near me for at least a month.”
“My plan worked!” Tony proclaimed and pressed his lips to Bruce’s cheek.