The lady has a very shrill voice. Hurts Hulk head.
"You think you have defeated me?" she shrieks, high as the alarms that are the soundtrack to Hulk's life. Hulk winces. That is not how you do it.
He roars at the lady. That is how you do it.
She looks a bit shaken. Hulk puffs out his chest, proud. No-one roars like Hulk. Metal Man slaps his back, chuckling. Hulk chuckles and slaps back, almost sending the Metal Man into the asphalt. Whoops.
"O... Kay. Ixnay on the Ulk-slap-hey. No-one saw that, did they?" Metal Man asks, his feet and hands doing that fire thing. Hulk obediently shakes his head. After two years, he knows what Metal Man likes to hear.
"Did Big Green just bat you across the street, Stark?" comes the sound of Shooty Bird over the little ear-voices. Hulk grunts and turns, before he remembers that Shooty Bird not actually in Hulk's ear. The little ear-voices can be confusing sometimes, but Banner likes them, so Hulk keeps.
Hulk will never say that he likes them too.
Metal Man sniffs. "Right, 'Hawkeye', yeah right, eyes of a hawk, my phenomenal and heartbreakingly attractive butt – you're obviously seeing things. Need glasses there, Barton? Squinting?"
"Saw Hulk playing volleyball with you, you ass."
"That's phenomenal and heartbreakingly attractive ass to you, Tweety."
"Can we please pay attention to the crazy witch and her army of flying dog-lizards?" asks the Star Man wearily. His shield lashes out like a snake.
Good idea. Hulk grunts again, grinning darkly at Star Man, before leaping into the air with his usual gleeful abandon, battering one of the last flying-dog-lizard things from the sky and pounding its stupid head against the road. It tries to bite, but it cannot hurt Hulk. Hulk picks it up and smashes it again. It lies still, and Hulk snorts contemptuously at it.
"Amora! I will not warn thee again!" says Shouty Long-Hair, twirling his (annoying!) hammer threateningly. "Leave this realm in peace and return to Asgard to face the Allfather's justice, or face certain defeat!"
"Thor!" she shrieks, and ow, ow, ow. Hulk presses his hands against his ears, and accidentally crushes the ear-voice. Whoops again.
"Hulk smashed," he says apologetically, holding it up.
"Bruce is gonna be pissed," says Metal Man conversationally, his hands making the red fire as he passes through the air, dog-lizards trailing behind him. Hulk absently grabs two and smashes them together. The smash isn't loud enough to drown out the sound of the shrieky lady.
Hulk hates shrieky lady.
"He's already pissed, that's why he's green," says Shooty Bird as he arrives. His shooty goes ziiip! Ziiip! Zipzipzipzipzip!
"Hulk!" comes another voice, a better voice. He turns, and Red-Black is flying through the air towards him, her wrists sparking with the white fire as the dog-thing she is riding thrashes and falls. Hulk is moving fast as fast, and catches Red-Black in one hand as the dog-thing smashes to the ground. Her hands wrap over his fingers as she pants.
"Thanks," she says, and he puts her down. Careful, careful. Team is not like Hulk. Team is smashable. Hulk must be careful. Hulk has learned this.
Red-Black still stumbles, but then steadies herself using Hulk's outstretched finger (Hulk can be helpful!) and looks up. Her eyes are hard and her breath comes normally now, no puffing or wheezing. She is ready. "Cap. How many left?"
"Not much," says Star Man. "Only one or two more of those things. Thor? What's the situation with Amora?"
Shouty Long Hair is doing the Big White Fire thing again, sending it into the shrieky lady with his (annoying!) hammer. It makes her even shriekier. Hulk groans.
"God, has she got Chihuahua in her family tree or something?" moans Metal Man. "JARVIS, cut audio by sixty percent. Please."
Shooty Bird fells the last flying dog-lizard thing. "That's all of them."
"My friends!" Shouty Long Hair calls. He sends another huge blast into the shrieky lady, and she screams once more. "She cannot be long for this fight! We must..."
There is a strange boom, one without sound. Hulk feels in his teeth.
The blast cuts off, and the Big White Fire fizzles. He hears the thud of the (annoying!) hammer against the ground, but Hulk knows better than to try and pick it up. Annoying hammer.
Wait. Shouty Long Hair was going to tell Team how to finish the stupid shrieky lady.
And waits just a little more, restlessly shifting from foot to foot. The road buckles beneath his feet. Hulk is getting impatient.
There is a tiny, frightened gasp.
He looks down.
There is a small one, by his feet. It looks like a younger of the small ones. Perhaps five years, nearly as old as Hulk. It has brownish hair, and is wearing a black thing that looks too big – just like Banner's clothes after Hulk is done with them.
"Out of way," Hulk tells the small one. "Danger."
The small one just stares at him. Its eyes are huge and bluish-grey.
Hulk growls at it.
The small one makes a squeaky noise, and almost stumbles over the black thing it wears as it tries to scramble away.
Hulk grunts, and turns back to wait, but there is nothing. The shrieky lady has gone. Team is gone. Ear-voice is gone. Hulk cannot find Team!
He begins to snarl under his breath. The shrieky lady better not have hurt Hulk's Team. Team is Hulk's, and Hulk will SMASH!
The small one lets out a little choke as he trips over the too-big black thing, and that is when Hulk notices the strips of dull purple on the black.
The small one is wearing Shooty Bird's clothes! Hulk roars and leaps, snatching the small one up in one hand and bringing it close. It freezes in fear as Hulk peers at it, scowling.
It looks a bit like Shooty Bird, only smaller. Hair is a lighter colour, softer like the younger ones. It smells right.
It smells like Team.
"Shooty Bird," he grunts.
The young one shrinks in Hulk's grasp, eyes terrified. Hulk is scaring this puny Shooty Bird. It is not big as normal Shooty Bird. Hulk must be very-very-very big to him now.
Hulk sits, causing the ground to tremble a little, and puts the little Shooty Bird down. Careful, careful. Team is not like Hulk.
Shooty Bird swallows, and then tilts his chin up. "H...hi..." he says. Brave. Brave for one so puny.
Hulk grunts again. "Shooty Bird," he says, and waits for Shooty Bird to tell him what to do.
The little boy seems two seconds away from either fleeing or screaming or crying or all three, but for some reason – he laughs.
Hulk tilts his head.
"Are you... are you like a troll?" Shooty Bird asks. Hulk can hear terror in the tiny piping voice – can smell it. But the puny Shooty Bird is pretending it isn't there. He talks to Hulk like he is not scared. It feels just like when the Team was first a Team, back when everyone was still scared of Hulk and pretending the scared wasn't there. The stink of terror every time Hulk opened his eyes.
"Hulk is Hulk," he says, and lowers his brows. Shooty Bird should not be afraid of Hulk anymore. Hulk lets Shooty Bird play on Hulk's shoulders, they are friends, they are Team. Why is Shooty Bird afraid again?
"Have at theeeeeeouch!"
Hulk's head whips up. Shouty Long Hair! Shouty Long Hair will tell Hulk what it is Hulk should smash! He peers amongst the rubble, pushing up onto his knuckles to look amidst the concrete.
There is another small one with yellow hair there. It is hopping up and down and grasping its foot.
"I dropped it!" the new small one gasps. "Right on my toes!"
The puny Shooty Bird has crept up behind Hulk to see the new small one, and stifles a sound that could be a laugh, if it were not so afraid. Hulk ignores it. Shooty Bird does not want Hulk to see that he is afraid, so Hulk will pretend not to see it. Hulk is still Team, even if Shooty Bird is afraid.
The new yellow-hair small one is scowling and his small lips are pushed out in anger and hurt. He is grumbling. "Oh, brother Loki is going to laugh until he is sick at this. I've had enough, Mother. You can end the illusion now. The hammer obviously does not choose me – a warrior like me must be destined for a far mightier weapon... right? Mother? Please don't tell father..."
The small yellow-hair looks around, and then spots Hulk. He rolls his eyes.
"Mother, please. I wish to exit the illusion. I don't know what it is meant to be, anyway. There's nothing like that in the palace bestiaries. Is it a new kind of giant?"
Hulk is getting a little annoyed. "Hulk is Hulk."
"You are a... Hulk?" the small one asks sceptically. Then he grins fiercely. "Oh, Mother, do you provide me with a true challenge? Thank you from a thrice-grateful son!"
He clenches his tiny fists and flies at Hulk, who rocks back in surprise. The little punches do not hurt, but they are familiar.
"You. Shouty Long Hair," Hulk says, and sighs. He is beginning to spot a pattern.
He turns away from the puny (very puny!) god, even as the small one continues to batter at his shins. "Hie, villain!" Shouty Long Hair cries, "you do not turn your back on Thor, son of mighty Odin, the greatest warrior of Asgard!"
Shouty Long Hair was even shoutier as a small one. Hulk is, frankly, astonished. Hulk did not think it possible.
None of this is possible to Hulk. No-one is here to tell Hulk what to do. Shooty Bird and Shouty Long Hair do not know Hulk any more now that they are puny. Who is to tell Hulk what to smash?
Hulk has to find the rest of the Team. Even puny, they are still Team. Together they will know.
He glances down at Shooty Bird. "Stay with Hulk. Hulk keep safe."
Shooty Bird's puny face looks amazed and shocked. Hulk thinks maybe the small Shooty Bird was like the small Banner. No-one ever keep Banner safe when he was small.
Not helpful thoughts. Those are Smash thoughts. Look for Team.
He continues to ignore Shouty Long Hair's insect-like punches as he trudges over to where he can see a glimmer of red and gold. Metal Man. If he is like Shooty Bird and Shouty Long Hair, he will be a small one. He must also find Red-Black and Star Man, and make sure they are safe.
Hulk can barely make out the pitter of Shooty Bird's little bare feet, he is so light and nimble. There is glass and sharpness on the ground; this is nothing to Hulk, Hulk is strongest, but small feet will hurt. Without thinking about it, Hulk grabs the puny Shooty Bird and places him on Hulk's shoulders just like normal. The small one freezes again.
Hulk must be careful with Team. He says, "safe there. Stay. Hold."
Shooty Bird breathes out very, very slowly. Hulk can feel him trembling.
"What is that?" Shouty Long Hair says, out of breath from futilely pummelling Hulk's leg.
"Metal Man," Hulk says, gentle as he can. It is still loud, too loud, too angry. Hulk snorts at himself. Small ones afraid, hate Hulk anyway. Why bother?
"Sorry, is someone out there?" comes a muffled and very confused young voice from inside the metal. "Only there's a voice in this coffin, and I don't believe in ghosts so could someone please please please come let me out before I start?"
Hulk's breath catches. Metal Man will be puny, will be afraid of Hulk too. Metal Man is only one not afraid of Hulk ever. Even kind Betty was afraid.
"Please?" the small voice cries. "It says it's Jarvis, but Jarvis can't be dead, he just can't be, so please help me, please tell me it's not true!"
Hulk swallows again. "Not true," he says. "Not true."
The small voice hitches, sobs. "It's so dark. It's so dark. You sound so... so... am I dead? Is that what this is?"
"No!" Hulk roars, angry at the thought, and then stuffs his enormous fist into his mouth to quiet the hugeness of Hulk's noise. Hulk must be quieter. "Metal Man not dead," he says, quieter, quieter. "Metal Man in his metal. Ask the no-body to take metal off."
"Ask the no-body. Voice. Not dead voice. No-body voice."
"A-ask? Do I...?" The little tinny voice stops. Shooty Bird's little hands clutch tightly in Hulk's hair. Then the Metal Man begins speaking again. "Um... excuse me? Mister? Can you please let me out of this? I promise, my dad's really rich and when he notices that I'm gone he'll pay whatever, promise..."
"Of course, Sir," comes the no-body voice. It sounds careful, like it is trying not to be upset. "I will unpack the Mark IX for you. May I suggest that, as he appears to be the only adult, that you hand over the detachable earwig to Mister Hulk?"
Hulk is impressed with the no-body. Mister Hulk. Mister Hulk. Hulk likes the sound of that.
"Earwig? That's the thing here?"
"That is correct, Sir."
"Who's Mister Hulk?"
"You'll spot him almost immediately, Sir. I really don't think you'll be able to mistake him for anyone else."
The metal begins to slide away in patterns, leaving behind a flattened gold and red disc and a boy with black hair curled up inside the too-big clothes. He stares at Hulk.
Hulk nods. "Metal Man."
The small one shakes his head. "Tony. I'm Tony. Where's this?"
Shouty Long Hair folds his arms and scowls at the new small one. "This is no illusion. Who are you, foul knave, and how did you bring me here?"
Shooty Bird's hands tighten even further into Hulk's hair.
"What? I don't know about you, Barbie, but I was at home! In bed!" The puny Tony looks around, dark eyes shocked. They settle on Hulk, and then brighten. "So are you Mister Hulk? You are like, green as green! You're as green as copper oxide!"
The small one leans forward, his eyes growing even more impossibly large. "That. Is. So. Groovy."
Hulk doesn't know that word. But the small Metal Man is not afraid. This makes Hulk happy. Some things do not change.
Shooty Bird stifles a snigger. "Groovy? How old are you, dude?"
Tony thrusts out a little pointed chin. "Dude? What are you, a cowboy?"
"I do not understand," says Shouty Long Hair sullenly.
Hulk grunts, before carefully (so carefully – Team is not like Hulk) lifting the puny Tony to his feet. There is no shiny in his chest.
"Gone," he says, surprised, and a flicker of worry sparks deep inside him from Banner.
"What...?" the small one says, and peers down at the black shirt, the large blue trousers. "Hey! These aren't my clothes!"
Hulk rumbles in frustration. This is confusing. The small ones, the small Team, they still do not tell him what he should do. He trusts them to tell him, and they do not now that they are small.
"What the helium is going on?" the small Metal Man exclaims. "Who're these guys, anyway?"
Hulk pinches his nose. He knows why Banner does it, now. "Ear-voice," he mutters.
Hulk holds out one mammoth hand. "Ear-voice," he repeats, and the boy frowns.
"Oh, the earwig... that thing inside the folding coffin?" Small Metal Man places it carefully onto Hulk's hand. It looks stupidly small on Hulk's green, broad palm. Hulk's fingers do not pick it up, and he growls in frustration.
"Here, let me," says Shooty Bird. "In your ear?"
Hulk nods, surprised. Hulk raises his hand for Shooty Bird's nimble little fingers to take it and fit it to Hulk's ear. Shooty Bird is not so afraid any more?
"No-body," Hulk growls in answer, and the no-body sighs.
"I really do prefer JARVIS, but if you insist, Sir. I believe you will find the younger version of Captain Rogers behind that upturned car. I am still scanning the area for Miss Romanoff."
"Star Man?" Hulk stands, before thinking of something. He holds out his hand to the puny Tony and the puny Shouty Long Hair. "Up?"
Tony immediately raises his arms. "Heck yeah!"
The boy ends up on Hulk's right shoulder, crowing in delight. "Best dream ever!"
Shouty Long Hair looks distrustful. "I do not trust creatures of your ilk, monster," he says, stiff and haughty. "I am a Prince of Asgard! I do not get carried – it is beneath my... my something. Father said so."
"Not your enemy," Hulk says. He remembers Shouty Long Hair – the real one, the huge, bright, laughing one – said that for months and months until Hulk finally believed it. Shouty Long Hair is Team.
Even if Team currently deserves a smashing for being such a proud little snot.
Then small Shouty Long Hair looks more cheerful. "But perhaps you are a good monster," he says. Then his little arms reach up as well, and he bounces on the balls of his feet. "I will ride, then!"
Hulk lifts the small one to his other shoulder. The three ride and gasp and grasp at each other for balance as Hulk bends and leaps for the car that the no-body pointed out.
There is the tiniest small one Hulk has ever seen huddled up against the car. He is hiding something with his puny body, wrapping it protectively in his arms.
"Star Man?" Hulk says, shocked.
The small one, yellow haired and skinny as Banner was, doesn't look up. "Shhh."
Star Man must tell Hulk what to do! Hulk needs Star Man to tell him what to do!
"Star Man!" Hulk roars, desperate. He slams his fists against the ground. The road buckles under Hulk's knuckles, and he pants, waiting for his orders. "Tell Hulk! Tell Hulk smash!"
The puny (so, so puny! The puniest!) small one then whips his head around, his eyes furious. They blanch at the sight of Hulk, and then the air stinks of terror again.
Hulk is devastated. Star Man always knows! Star Man cannot be afraid now, not now! Star Man must lead the Team, must lead Hulk!
Then the bright blue eyes fill with determination and the pigeon chest lifts. His tiny limbs steel themselves.
"I said, be quiet," he says, sternly.
Hulk clamps his teeth together, overjoyed. Star Man is finally giving orders!
"You can't be too loud," the small one continues in a low, cool voice. He unwraps one of his arms, and Hulk can see what he is protecting, wrapped in black with the Star Man's shield protecting her back. "She's very still, and I don't think she understands English."
It is Red-Black. Her eyes are flat, wary, and she does not move. Her hair is like a splash of blood.
"Red-Black," Hulk says sorrowfully. Hulk scared her again. Hulk is sorry.
Star Man frowns at Hulk. "You know her?"
Hulk nods, and gathers the rest of the Team from Hulk's shoulders. The five small faces look up at him uncomprehendingly, and it hurts Hulk in his chest. He points. "You. All of you. Hulk's Team."
"We're... what...?" says the puny Tony. "A team?"
Star Man leans forward. He is so fragile, like a little bird. Hulk can only see Star Man in the small one's eyes. They are the eyes of the Captain. "Team."
"A team of what?"
Hulk shrugs. "Smash."
"We're a... a demolition crew?" says Star Man dubiously.
"What is this 'demolition crew' you speak of?" asks Shouty Long Hair. "Is this a fitting role for a Prince of Asgard?"
The small Shooty Bird sniggers.
"Team smash enemies," Hulk offers.
That makes Shouty Long Hair perk up. "Enemies? Like the Jotun?"
"Enemies of who?" asks Star Man.
"Freedom," suggests no-body in Hulk's ear.
"Freedom," Hulk repeats.
Star Man looks thoughtful.
"But we're just kids! How did you do this?" the small Metal Man exclaims. "I was in bed!"
"Oh yeah? I was in Iowa," retorts Shooty Bird dryly.
"Team not small," Hulk tries to explain. "Team big. Not as big as Hulk. Hulk is biggest!"
"I believe you," pipes Star Man, curling more protectively around the blank-eyed Red-Black. "I reeeeally do."
"They are superheroes known as the Avengers," no-body says in Hulk's ear. "They have been de-aged by the sorceress known as Amora..."
Hulk bats at the air, irritated. "Hulk know that!"
"I simply suggest, Sir, that you may wish to repeat that to them."
"Puny small ones are superherons knows as the Avenburs," Hulk parrots sullenly. "Small ones have been deranged by the saucepans known as Remora."
There is a silence.
"Uh," says the small Tony, "what?"
There is some more silence as Hulk pretends not to hear the small Tony.
There is even more silence as the puny Star Man gives the puny Shouty Long Hair a beseeching look, and the Shouty Long Hair pulls a helpless face.
Hulk sometimes wishes he was as smart as Banner. Then the puny no-body would not make Hulk embarrassed. And stupid silence would not keep going!
The silence is abruptly shattered by the most unlikely sound imaginable: Red-Black is laughing. Large green eyes peer at Hulk from over the Star Man's thin little arm, and they dance with delight. "Speaks Engluish lihke me," she giggles, and clutches herself tighter. "Lihke me!"
"She's okay!" Star Man says in delight.
"Red-Black!" Hulk roars, happy.
Her breath catches at the sound of Hulk's roar, but her giggles resume shortly after. "You speak..." she says, and then breaks off into sounds that Hulk does not know.
"Huh?" asks Shooty Bird, crouching down before her.
"I do not think that is appropriate language for a young maiden," says Shouty Long Hair primly.
"You understood all that?" asks Star Man.
"Did you not?" Shouty Long Hair seems surprised. "Does not the Allspeak work for you?"
"Hey, can you stand?" Shooty Bird says, gently lifting Red-Black out of Star Man's arms. "You must be cold. It's freezin', and we're all wearing weird stuff. C'mere, he's real warm. Hey, no, wait!" he says as she shies away, her face full of wildness and animal fear. "It's okay, promise. He's a nice troll. He won't hurt us."
"A Troll? Well, why did you not say?" Shouty Long Hair says, and rolls his eyes.
"Not Troll," Hulk says, cross. "Hulk is Hulk."
"Check this out," Shooty Bird says to Red-Black confidentially, leading her small step by small step to Hulk. "See how warm he is?"
"Ohhhh," Red-Black says, a tiny delicate hand resting on Hulk's knee. "Varm..."
"So, apparently we're herons because of a remora," puny Tony says, and yawns. "Dunno about you, but I've really enjoyed this dream. I'm always eating cheese right before bed from now on."
"You believe we dream?"
"What other answer is there? Ever seen a car like that?" Tony points at their shelter.
Star Man yawns also. "Good point. Boy oh boy, I must've have one heck of a rowdydow palaver inside my noggin tonight. I'll just bet some higher-up muckamuck of a haggersnash padded the flour rations with talcum again, and that's why I'm havin' such a doolally ol' dream..."*
"Is... that English?" asks Metal Man, fascinated.
"Don't care," Shooty Bird mumbles, dragging Red-Black by the hand to clamber into Hulk's lap. She stiffens, but follows after a tug or two. Hulk watches, speechless, as the two small ones curl together with their heads on his broad green arm.
They are very small. Hulk could crush them like pips. Hulk settles, careful and slowly, against the car, which dents against his back. They could sleep. Be warm. Small ones safe with Hulk.
They feel... sort of nice. Warm. Small. Trusting. Team.
"Aye, a good idea," says Shouty Long Hair. "If it be a dream, I shall wake at home... and I shall be able to lift the mighty Mjolnir..."
Hulk scowls. Annoying hammer. And then Hulk freezes as yet more little hands and feet begin to crawl over his legs.
"Shove over," the puny Tony says to the small Shooty Bird. "Quit hogging the forearm - dude."
Shooty Bird grumbles, but makes space. Skinny little legs tangle in Hulk's lap. Shouty Long Hair sprawls greedily, his hair and arms thrown carelessly over Hulk's bicep. Metal Man's back is pressed against Hulk's stomach, trying to absorb as much warmth as possible. Red-Black is curled up, tense and ready even in sleep, even so small. She does not relax. Shooty Bird has his hand on her fire-bright hair. Star Man comes last, laying against Hulk's legs with his head so trustingly in Hulk's hand.
He has Team, all his Team, in his hands. Safe.
Hulk cradles Star Man's head in his huge palm and feels... feels...
Bruce woke. His legs were asleep. So were his arms.
"Oh god, tell me I didn't come back under a boulder," he groaned.
His eyelashes hurt. How on earth did that make sense? How could eyelashes hurt? Bruce groaned again and tried to move his arm, testing the resistance.
Surprisingly, there was very little. But there was a protesting little mumble.
Bruce's eyes snapped open.
There were... children all over him. Small ones, about five or six years old if he were any judge. The especially large boy across his arm had cut off the circulation, and there was a smaller blond boy against his legs, which explained the pins and needles. A black-haired boy was clinging to his torso like a limpet, and there were a little pair nesting like kittens on his lap.
"What... the hell...?" he mumbled, frankly nonplussed.
The black-haired boy made a very complaining sound, and then sat up straight, knocking his head against the bottom of Bruce's chin. "Ow!" "Ow!" they chorused, before the boy's dark eyes focussed on him. He grinned broadly, clapping his hands in delight.
"Hey, still in the dream! But the green troll guy's a regular guy now!"
Bruce stared at the boy. There was... that face had been famous all its life. If the age were any indication, he'd built his first motor only two years before.
Scarcely believing it, he rasped, "Tony?"
"He knows my name!" Tony hoisted himself up higher, jostling all the other children who were using him as a mattress. "Mister, can you tell me, is it about the saucepans again? Because that was awesome."
"Sir? Doctor Banner?"
"JARVIS!" Bruce gasped in relief, eyes locked and staring at this tiny, energetic version of his friend. "Oh god, thank god, JARVIS!"
"Doctor Banner, as you have no doubt surmised, these children are your teammates. This was the effect of a parting spell shot by the sorceress Amora as she fled the scene. I am afraid any efforts made to communicate this through the Hulk were... less than successful."
Inside, Bruce felt a grumble of irritation. "Yes, I'm sensing that," he said wryly. "Do we know if this is permanent?"
"May I suggest we wake the children, Sir, and perhaps ask if young Master Thor has any knowledge of such enchantments?"
"Good idea," Bruce mumbled.
Tony was looking at him oddly as the others began to stir. "Who're you talking to?"
"JARVIS, in the earpiece," Bruce said absently. Tony's eyes widened, if it were even possible.
"I thought you said that! Jarvis? In that earwiggy thing from the folding coffin? Is it like a phone? I need to talk to him!"
"No, no, no, no, it's not like a phone, hey wait, I need that..." Bruce managed, even as Tony yanked the earwig out of his ear and began yelling into it.
"Jarvis! Hey, Jarvis, it's Tony! You gotta come help me, I don't think this is a dream!"
"Keep it down!" the small boy with the rascally face (who had to be Clint, just had to be) grumbled. "People're trying to sleep, idiot!"
"'M a genius," Tony said sulkily.
"Kids," Bruce said desperately. "Can I have my arms back?"
Abruptly his arms were pinned to his sides by bony little knees, and a jagged shard of glass was pressed to his throat. "Who arrruh you," hissed a voice.
Bruce swallowed. "Natasha..."
The girl glared at him. "Vhere is the varm green..." and she broke into Russian. Bruce tried to calm his breathing, even as Hulk muttered beneath his skin about all work no play.
"I'm him," Bruce said, as evenly as he could. "I mean, I turn into him. He's me."
She stared into his eyes. "I do noht belieff you."
The large blond child who was undoubtedly Thor was seemingly blasé about large green monsters who become small tanned doctors. "It is not beyond the realm of magic to achieve," he said. "Is it indeed magic?"
"No, I'm not magic. I'm science," he said.
Tony's eyes sparkled with excitement. "Coooooooool."
Natasha pushed her makeshift blade against his throat once more. "Prove it."
Bruce took another long, slow breath, closed his eyes, and let the most recent memories bubble to the surface. Normally he'd meditate, but it seemed that time was of the essence here to prevent being throated by a six year old girl. "He calls you Red-Black," he said in a far-off voice, rifling through the disjointed images. "You were by the car. You laughed at him, you think he is..." Bruce's eyes snapped open.
She was looking less certain. "You think he's funny," Bruce breathed.
She gazed at him a little while longer, before nodding. The jagged glass disappeared like it had never been.
"They start that young?" he'd asked.
"I did," she'd said, and he'd never questioned it, never wondered...
Bruce massaged some life back into his arms as he sat forward, noting with some relief that as the Hulk had been sitting for the change, he was still wearing the pants (irrevocably stretched, of course, but at least they hadn't slipped off and scarred any impressionable young minds). "Okay," he said, and shook the thoughts from his head. "Is everyone awake?"
The assembled children looked around. A tiny child (obvious malnourishment, his doctor's eye informed him) stepped forward, and he recognised Steve from the tone of his voice, the hard set of that little chin and the steely glint in his eye.
Some things were beyond serums.
"Please Mister, we'd like an explanation," he said, firmly but politely.
"And you're owed one," Bruce said, nodding. "Okay, my name's Doctor Bruce Banner, but you all call me Bruce. We're on a team, a team of superheroes called the Avengers."
"Oh," Clint said, eyebrows raising. "Because that's so much more believable than what the green guy said."
Bruce tried to stop the smile, and couldn't. "I know. But it's true. You're all adults, and you're all superheroes. We were fighting against a sorceress from Asgard..."
"You mean it's real? I thought this guy was just spouting crazy talk!" Tony said.
"How dare you!" Thor spluttered. "Have at thee!"
"Guys, stop! Stop! No, it's real, and so is the sorceress. You guys were apparently changed into children, but not me. Maybe the Hulk is immune to magic as well as everything else. Anyway, that's really what happened."
There was a short pause.
"So you are a man who sometimes is a giant green monster, and we're all famous superheroes who got turned into children because of an evil sorceress from another world," said Steve slowly.
"Well, that's so crazy it's just got to be real," said Clint cheerfully.
Natasha shrugged. "Da," she said.
Thor was beaming. "If this is mere Asgardian sorcery and not some foul art supported by one of the great artifacts, this will wear off. All spells lose their potency eventually."
"Oh, thank god," Bruce said, boneless with relief, and leaned back against the car.
"Oh, hey, Doctor Banner? So if this isn't Jarvis, who the heck just ordered me pizza? From Italy?"