Prologue: Talking Smack
Yes, his senses had been heightened by the serum, but sometimes Steve had what Agent Coulson had described as “trouble processing, perfectly normal.” Usually it was visual stimuli–screens, especially video. But, it didn’t happen so much with his hearing, aside from music he hadn’t encountered before.
So when Agent Romanoff arched up on her toes and uttered a kind of Howard Stark proposal in his ear, it had taken him a long moment of staring at her to really let it sink in.
And when he looked at Dr. Banner it was clear the man had (best case scenario) twigged onto the strange tension or (worst case scenario) had heard her matter of fact whisky voice make that bald suggestion. Steve’s eyes skittered off to the distance, like he wasn’t already thinking about being taken down by the two of them, the strategic part of his brain flipping through the helicarrier layout for possible locations--close to the engines, for the cover noise, because God, he’s seen slowed down clips of her fighting and that’s not even taking into account the literal wildcard chewing the inside of his lip while he scans the horizon for the millionth time. Jesus.
Steve has been in the future just long enough not to discount any of this; he has no way of dismissing this possibility now beating and squirming in his chest. If only one of them would break, would make eye contact and chuckle.
Bruce has known Agent Romanoff for all of forty-eight hours, but that’s long enough to understand her sense of humor can be as vicious and solitary as Bruce himself. Among everything else, she’s a pigtail puller. So when she leans up into Captain Rogers’ ear and says, “We all get out of this alive, I think we should fuck. I bet he and I could make you scream,” it’s all he can do to keep a straight face.
But he does. He’s maybe a pigtail puller himself. Plus, the amusement helps tamp down his anxiety when the blades start rotating and they rise into the air. She may have started out Russian, but there’s something delightfully American about her iconoclasm. She wears it as well as those jeans.
It’s clear Captain Rogers concludes that Bruce hadn’t really heard Romanoff, and he lets Rogers think that. Circumstances get pretty hairy, and Bruce isn’t willing to compromise the man’s focus. And while he’s fairly straight but not a stickler about it, the Other Guy is as interested in sex as a tornado would be. By the time all six of them are stumbling toward the elevators in the Stark Tower lobby, full of shawarma and the satisfaction of a job well done, Bruce has mostly forgotten about the whole thing.
Tony Stark punches the door close button on the express elevator before he’s even fully inside, and while Agent Barton quickly slips past, and Thor strides in and dares the doors to close on him (they snag his cape), Bruce is not currently moving fast for anyone or anything, so they wait for the other undamaged elevator to come back down.
He’s feeling okay, considering he’s hulked out twice since he’s showered last, and smashed the hell out of aliens all afternoon. The guy at the shawarma place, Adib, was much closer to his size and had good taste in cologne. So there’s that.
It’s Steve Rogers’ nervous side-eyed glance between them that reminds Bruce of Romanoff’s lewd suggestion--fuck, was that yesterday? He gives her a frankly curious look, to see what she thinks of Steve’s blush, a clearly visible smear of pink reflected in the brushed chrome of the lobby.
On the helicarrier deck both men had moved with the wary diplomacy of truce: you seem like a decent enough guy, let’s work together and not hit any sore spots.
Banner had been so cautiously grateful for Rogers’ basic human decency…which was yes, kind of stunning when he really got going, but that wasn’t the point. She hadn’t been able to resist putting Rogers on his back foot and evening out the playing field.
So she’d suggested the first thing to come to mind. At that point, she wasn’t really thinking seriously about any further endgame than locating the Tesseract, finding Clint, and bringing him home. Maybe even alive.
It’s not like Banner would take it seriously anyway, not like he wasn’t constantly analyzing everything she said with bemused distrust.
The look on Rogers’ face, though. That had been interesting.
Now both men walk loose-limbed, remarkable for each of them in different ways.
Rogers is flushed and dusty, and on the drive over he’d methodically bitten the chap from his lips so they’re healed smooth and dusky pink. He’s lost the stiff bearing Stark seems to starch into him, beaten softer like rock-washed laundry.
Banner looks freshly laid already, shoulders lax, the open posture and rolling stride of a guy who has nothing left to hide. Which she supposes he might even think is true.
They got out alive, except for Coulson. Even Barton, busted apart but already putting himself back together. Even Stark, spit back out from the wormhole like an olive pit.
Only Phil was lost. And that hurts, but it almost seems ungrateful to acknowledge it, with so much disaster avoided. There are many worse ways to go. She could be standing on a porch next to Phil with a goddamned American flag in her hands, making herself knock on the door, knowing Laura had watched them all the way up the drive and already knew.
She locks her knees to keep from wavering with giddy relief and this raw grief she doesn’t want to look at. She pushes the elevator button again.
It’s the soft, slightly smug look on Banner’s face as he catches her eye and looks pointedly at Rogers that brings her words from the helicarrier deck back to her. That gives her something tangible to focus on instead.
Rogers looks like a sunset. Banner looks…game, and she’s…intrigued.
Yes, there’s cementing team connections and bleeding off the stress and adrenaline of the fight, even the painkilling endorphins of orgasm, but frankly there’s also the sheer delight in calling bluffs with Banner, trolling Rogers.
“You have a question, Dr. Banner?”
Rogers locks down a little, eyes pinned to the elevator’s floor display countdown.
Bruce’s faint smile is somehow more smug after he wets his lips. “We doing this?”