They were aiming for Norway. They didn’t hit Norway.
Or at least, that’s what Thor cheerfully tells him when Hulk finally cedes control back to Bruce. Apparently it’s only been three days this time, and Hulk was mostly content to spar with Valkyrie when he got bored. Then their ship had started to hurtle towards Earth, and then they’d crashed, and Hulk claimed boredom before shrinking back down to Bruce.
“If we didn’t get to Norway,” and Bruce doesn’t even know why they’d wanted to go to Norway in the first place, “then where are we?”
Korg pops out of nowhere, and Bruce nearly jumps out of his skin - one, because what the hell, and two, because the only other person he knew who was capable of that was definitely not a tall rock person - and says, “The nice fella I just talked to said we’re in some place called New Zee-land.”
Bruce drops his forehead onto his knees and starts laughing.
Thor isn’t very thrilled when he sees exactly where New Zealand is in relation to Norway, but he cheers up slightly when Bruce explains that it’s where Lord of the Rings was filmed.
“An excellent tale of your people,” Thor praises. “Except the elves, they’re pretentious pricks.”
Bruce catches Valkyrie’s eye, and gives a very deliberate cough. Valkyrie hiccups.
At any rate, their crash won’t have gone unnoticed. They need to figure out where in New Zealand they are, and they need to find out where civilization is. For now, they seem to be out in the jungle, and while they have plenty of food on the ship, it won’t last forever.
Bruce immediately volunteers to try to find a town. Korg got vague instructions from the guy he’d talked to, but looking at a map, Bruce thinks he can pinpoint where it is. Valkyrie volunteers as well, claiming that she’ll be protecting Bruce, but as soon as they’re on the road, Bruce gives her the side-eye.
“You just want a drink,” he accuses.
“What? Noooo,” Valkyrie says. “Well, yeah, but not just that.”
Bruce shrugs. “’S okay. It’s refreshing, to be honest. You’re one of the few people who doesn’t treat me like a ticking time bomb.”
Valkyrie startles him by laughing. “What? You and Hulk, a ticking time bomb? Yeah, right. You’re both fucking teddy bears, you are. Hulk’s just a bit of a bigger teddy bear.”
Bruce raises an eyebrow, unsure what to do with that mental image. “Thanks, I guess? You should probably realize that humans are a bit more, uh… fragile.”
“Yeah, I guessed that after you broke your neck to get Hulk to switch with you.”
Bruce snorts, but concedes the point to her.
There’s a goat, tied to one of the posts holding up the town’s sign. It’s called Ono. It seems appropriate.
There are a few stores, and a few places to eat. Valkyrie makes a beeline for the liquor store, in her Sakaaran leather-clad regalia. No one gives her a second glance. It’s Bruce who draws more confused looks, probably because he’s once again dressed in Tony’s clothes and really wishing he wasn’t.
He ends up following Valkyrie into the liquor store, only to find her arguing with the owner over prices. That’s when he remembers that none of them exactly have any human money, and he sighs.
“Val,” he calls, and she spins around, looking confused. “C’mon, we’ve seen what we needed to. We should head back.”
She opens her mouth to argue, but something about his expression must convince her, because she follows him back out the liquor store and into an Internet cafe where he can use the phone that Thor gave him. He breathes a sigh of relief when he discovers that Tony has kept his account open, and manages to get some cash from the disgruntled teller at the bank.
“Here,” he says, shoving half at Valkyrie. “Don’t go too nuts over it, okay?”
“Sure,” she answers, thumbing through it with a frown. “By the way - ‘Val’?”
“Valkyrie’s more like a title than a name.”
“Val.” She says it with the air of someone trying a new kind of food for the first time. “Well my real name is shite, so I’ll take it.”
While Valkyrie is buying as much booze as she can (Bruce doesn’t have the heart to tell her that it probably won’t affect her), he manages to use some of his so-called ‘awkward charm’ (named by Natasha) to get information from some of the townsfolk at the local coffee place. All their gossip centers around the jail, where their first criminal in over twenty years is being held.
“What’d they do?” Bruce asks.
Dan, who’s had a few too many shots of espresso, leans forward and half-whispers, “Stole seventeen of Harry’s avocados, would you believe it. Seventeen! Looked like fucking Santa Claus, she did, carrying that thing over her shoulder.”
Bruce is sorely tempted to tell the man that he’s sharing a body with Hulk, and has been spending the last two years on an alien planet. He decides to let Dan marvel at their avocado thief, however.
Two minutes later, the town sheriff comes into the coffee place and orders drink with three shots of espresso, before turning to Bruce with an irritable glare.
“Your friend Val’s locked up,” he says. “Ned down at the liquor store says she assaulted him?”
Valkyrie is in the process of becoming best friends with her cellmate by the time Bruce manages to get the teller to withdraw enough money to cover bail. He’s pretty sure that the teller’s opinion of him has plummeted down into the negatives, and it doesn’t help that his current outfit belongs to a self-proclaimed asshole.
“I’m Tony Stark,” he mutters, and has the insane urge to giggle.
The deputy sheriff pops her chewing gum in his face when he asks to see ‘Val’, before grabbing the keys and trudging over to the cells. Valkyrie is in the midst of howling with laughter at the story her blond cellmate is telling, thudding her fist against the ground and only making the floor shake a little.
“Someone was nice enough to post bail, Val,” the deputy says, unlocking the cell and opening the door.
“Hey!” Valkyrie snaps, holding up a hand. “Story’s not over, don’t interrupt. Rude.”
“So then,” the blond continues, and Bruce’s heart nearly stops. She’s facing away from him, so he can’t see her face, but -
“Then, Steve turns around and looks at me and just says - completely deadpan, like, you would not believe the deadpan this guy can pull - ‘I thought there’d be more ass’.”
Valkyrie starts laughing again, hard enough that there are tears streaming down her face. The deputy is standing at the open cell door and has taken out her phone, scrolling through what looks like Tinder.
“Well, I guess I’m off, but I’m very happy I got to meet you,” Valkyrie says. There’s a little tilt to her voice and Bruce has to think about it for a second, but - yup, Valkyrie is definitely flirting. “Maybe you wouldn’t mind if I came back and visited after your trial?”
Natasha - because it has to be Natasha, he’d know that voice anywhere - flirts right back. “Mm, yeah, I wouldn’t mind.”
Valkyrie shoots her a wink before she saunters out of the cell. “Hey, Bruce,” she says, clapping him on the back hard enough that he stumbles. “That didn’t take long.”
That catches Natasha’s attention, and she spins around in her cell, finally giving him a good look at her face. He’s startled by the change - she looks like she’s aged ten years instead of the two since they’re seen one another, with dark circles under her eyes and wrinkles around her mouth. But her eyes still carry the wicked glint he’s familiar with, even when they’re round with shock.
“Bruce?” she says, her voice cracking. Her composure returns almost immediately, and she smirks at him. “Channeling you inner Tony, I see.”
Bruce winces. Valkyrie’s good humor has abruptly vanished, and her gaze is moving between the two of them, assessing. “Can we maybe not do that?” he asks.
Natasha’s smirk falls from her face. “Alright,” she says. She nods at Valkyrie. “It was nice meeting you, Val. Please, do come visit.” Her attention turns to the deputy sheriff in a clear dismissal. “So - what’s for lunch today, Ella?”
Bruce is half-dragged out of the station. He and Valkyrie make their way down the street until they leave town, heading back to their ship. He still can’t shake the whole shell-shocked feeling of seeing Natasha again. It’s like a bucket of ice-cold water, but he can’t deny that it brings back the longing with a vengeance.
Halfway back to the ship, Valkyrie gasps.
“Shit,” she says. “You’re hung up on her!”
Bruce would like to disappear now. That sounds nice.
“And she’s hung up on you! Great, there go my chances.”
“Wouldn’t discount yourself just yet,” Bruce mutters. Natasha’s had two years to move on. It’s the smart thing to do.
“Well, obviously there’s only one thing to do,” Valkyrie says, her voice hardening.
“Yeah, get back to the ship and figure out how we’re gonna feed thousands of hungry - “
“Break her out of prison.”
“ - Asgardians - Valkyrie, no, that is not what I said - “
As it turns out, once Valkyrie gets an idea in her head, she apparently just… doesn’t hear any protests against that idea. She finds Thor as soon as they get back to the ship, hurrying away as Bruce asks weakly, “She could’ve broken herself out, so why hasn’t she?”
Thor, of course, is overjoyed by the prospect of seeing another teammate of his. He’s even more excited at the idea of breaking her out of jail - never mind that the reason Natasha’s in jail could be important, Bruce knows that much at least - and in spite of the fact that New Zealand is a small country and they don’t have very far to run if they bring the local law enforcement down on their heads.
Loki takes one look at them, with their heads bowed together, and walks away, muttering to himself.
At first, Valkyrie and Thor try to come up with some kind of plan. Bruce suggests paying Natasha’s bail. They both dismiss his idea.
“You could just let Hulk smash the place up a bit,” Valkyrie suggests. Bruce can practically feel Hulk perk up at the suggestion, and is reminded that Hulk missed Natasha as well.
“I don’t think that’s the best idea?” he hedges.
“Hulk was last out for three days,” Thor says, clapping Bruce on the shoulder. “I say Bruce should get three days as well.”
“Seems fair,” Bruce agrees. In the back of his head, Hulk grumbles, but concedes.
In the end, Thor and Valkyrie give up on a plan. They just decide to go into the jail, smash stuff up, grab Natasha, and leave. Hopefully before Ono decides to come after them with pitchforks.
The trek back into town takes half an hour, and this time all three of them draw stares. Bruce shifts uncomfortably under the scrutiny as they make their way to the sheriff’s station, though he notices that the looks Thor gets are actually appreciative.
Of fucking course.
Thor bursts into the police station with a grin, says, “Hi, we’re here to get our friend,” then marches over to the cell and rips the door off. The deputy blinks at them and then says to Thor, “Can I get a Snapchat with you?”
Natasha makes a show of dusting herself off as she leaves her cell. She catches Bruce’s eye. He mouths, “This wasn’t my idea,” at her. Her mouth quirks in amusement.
Valkyrie looks thrilled. “Wow,” she says, looking Natasha up and down. “Not only are you, like, wow, but Thor says you’re one of the greatest warriors on the planet. Nice.”
“You keep talking but all I see are biceps,” Natasha teases back, eyeing Valkyrie just as appreciatively.
Valkyrie preens. “Yeah, I know.”
Thor finishes taking selfies with the deputy sheriff, and heads over to envelop Natasha in a hug. Natasha hugs back just as tightly, smiling with genuine warmth at Thor.
“Why are you in prison, anyway?” Thor asks her.
“I stole some avocados.”
“Jesus,” Bruce mutters. “I thought they were joking.”
That’s the moment the sheriff shows up, with an actual gun this time, and starts shooting at them.
Loki takes one look at who came back from Ono with them, and promptly disappears. Bruce almost snickers.
Almost. Because somehow Thor and Valkyrie have given them the slip, leaving the two of them in one of the corners of the camp so that they can… what? Talk it out? Bruce isn’t even sure where to start. Ultron still feels like yesterday for him, but Natasha…
Before he can say anything, however, he finds himself wrapped up in her arms.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” she murmurs in his ear, before pulling away. “Tony and I didn’t know… we couldn’t figure out where you were. Less surprising, since you were on another planet, but… I was worried you’d been captured somehow. With the Accords and everything, it’s dangerous out there. For people like us.”
Bruce has no idea what the Accords are, but they don’t sound good.
“I’m glad you’re safe too,” he says. “What’s with the hair? And why were you in jail for stealing seventeen avocados?”
Natasha snorts. “I’m on the run. Again. Most of the Avengers are, except Tony. And Rhodey, I think. A disguise seemed like my best bet. Though this is actually the third time I’ve dyed it.”
“It looks good on you.”
They lapse into silence after that, during which time all of Bruce’s pent up feelings rise to the surface again. He still doesn’t know where to start - it doesn’t quite feel like he missed her, but at the same time, he has missed her. Does he say that? Does he talk about what happened on Sakaar?
None of those things, apparently, because the first thing out of his mouth is, “You still haven’t told me why you stole a bunch of avocados.”
Bruce pauses. “…what?”
Natasha shrugs. “I was hungry. I wanted dip. I was out of money. I stole seventeen avocados so that I could make dip.”
“Avocados are a super food. What’s so hard to believe about that?”
Bruce shakes his head. “And you just let them take you to prison?”
Natasha shrugs. “This time was for a dumber reason. It’s not as bad as last time, when I got caught spray painting buildings in Russian. Or the time before that, when - “
“Have you just been… shuffling yourself through jails?”
“…maybe.” Natasha pauses, thinks about it for a minute. “I might’ve been a bit reckless.”
“You think?” Bruce mutters.
“Also, the town was called ‘Ono,’” Natasha adds, sniggering. “Too good an opportunity to pass up. My mug shot will be on the wall in their sheriff’s station for all eternity. Like, ‘Ono, Natasha was here’.”
Bruce wonders if he’s fallen into some kind of fever dream, but something about the terrible pun and her casual attitude towards being in prison strikes him as definitely being Natasha. And in that moment, the ache of missing her fades, like they’ve never been apart.
Natasha notices. “What’s that smile?”
“Nothing.” Bruce reaches out, pauses to give her time to move, and takes her hand. “I’m just really happy you’re here.”