Bruce should have known there was trouble when he heard Tony sniggering.
He resolutely walked past the communal living area without looking over and rummaged in the cupboard for a mug. If it wasn't a world-threatening emergency, he wasn't interested until he'd had his coffee. After a late night in the lab he already felt like death.
'Alright, I'll bite,' said Clint, straightening up from the fridge, 'what are you laughing about?'
'Art.' There was a smirk in Tony's voice.
Bruce dug out the mug Peter had gotten him for his birthday, which read, "Trust me, I'm a nuclear physicist". Stifling a yawn, he poured himself a steaming dose from the coffee maker and drank it then and there (small bonus from Hulk: he was impervious to scalding drinks). Then he poured himself another. 'Do I want to know?' he asked.
When he finally looked over, he saw Clint and Tony huddled together on the sofa, grinning at Tony's tablet. 'We've gotta send these to everyone,' Clint said gleefully. 'Steve's gonna flip.'
Bruce wandered over and hovered in front of them. 'I don't like the sound of whatever you're planning.'
Tony looked up and regarded him seriously. 'Bruce, you need to see this.' He patted the free seat beside him. 'Have a read.'
With an internal sigh, he sat down and the tablet was pressed into his hands. He scanned the webpage, which was full of text. "Tony raised an eyebrow suggestively. 'That's not the only reason they call me Iron Man,' he said with a wink before unzipping Steve's fly and cupping his engorged pink -" 'Um, okay. What is this?' He tried to give it back to Tony, who made no attempt to take it.
'What did I say about handing me things?' But there was a mischevious glint in his eye. 'It's fanfiction.'
Bruce stared at him. 'Fanfiction.'
Clint leaned over and plucked the tablet from his hand. 'It's a modern thing Doc, you wouldn't get it.'
'I know what fanfiction is.' He took a long sip of coffee and debated pouring a third helping after this. 'Why are people writing it about you?'
'They're writing it about all of us, actually.' Clint guffawed. 'Oh my god, Tony fucks everyone.'
'Why wouldn't I be the star? I mean, look at me.' Tony opened his arms modestly.
Where are the stories where I'm a sex god?'
'Keep on scrolling, Legolas.'
Clint obliged. 'Tony and Steve, Steve and Thor, Thor and Bruce...'
Bruce frowned. 'People write stories about Thor and me?'
'You should have a read, you're pretty popular. Turns out a lot of people wanna know what's under the lab coat.' Tony winked in response to Bruce's blush. 'Oh don't worry, it's all very complimentary. Except maybe for the ones where Hulk splits Thor in half - in the fun way.'
Bruce felt sick.
Clint chuckled. 'Ooh, there's orgy fics too. Why have we never done that after a battle? God, there's so much here.' He grinned at Tony like a kid on Christmas Eve. 'What do we do with this newfound information?'
'I think it'd only be prudent to share it with the team. Ensure everyone is kept extremely informed and understands just how much the general public appreciates them. And of course examples will be provided.'
Bruce got up to make a third cup of coffee.
True to his word, Tony sent out the emails later that afternoon titled IMPORTANT: READ NOW. Bruce had opened his (against his better judgement) and was confronted with excerpts from some very vivid sex scenes: Tony bending him over in the lab, Nat tying him up and whipping him, Clint telling him to get on his knees... merely skimming through caused his face to heat up.
There was one of him and Thor too. His stomach flipped over in a not-quite-unpleasant way and his heart beat a little faster as he read:
"Thor's head was thrown back, his golden locks trailing over the pillow like limp rays of sunshine. His pink lips parted in a sigh and he smiled up at the man above him. The man he loved. 'Thou art amazing,' he crooned hungrily. 'I am not sure how I did not notice thee sooner.'
The Hulk smiled back, his ginormous dick buried in the god's clenching ass -"
Bruce had deleted the email and hurried back to his room to practice deep breathing exercises. It wasn't fair, he kept thinking, but refused to explain to himself exactly how it wasn't fair.
Then Fury summoned them all to a meeting.
'I think you all know why you're here,' he said, fixing each of them with a one-eyed glare.
Tony beamed at them all. 'So you got my email?'
Steve nodded curtly, his jaw tight. Nat rolled her eyes. Clint smirked and slouched in his chair.
Thor looked about blankly. 'What email?'
Fury leaned forward, clasping his hands together. 'Stark and Barton over here - '
'That's team IronHawk to you Director,' Tony cut in. Clint leaned over for a fistbump.
Fury continued as though he hadn't heard them. '-seemed to think it was a good idea to email sexual fanfiction to every member of the Avengers. Including myself, Hill and Coulson.'
Thor pulled out his phone, switched it on and scrolled through his emails. His eyes grew wider the more he read. Bruce sank a little lower in his chair. If the stories written about himself had been bad, who knew what they'd said about Thor?
'I don't appreciate being made a fool of. So I thank you for bringing this to my attention.' Fury stood up and began to pace, hands behind his back. 'And I think it would be beneficial if we... acknowledged this. Perhaps even encouraged it.'
Steve blinked. 'I beg your pardon?'
'The Avengers have gotten a lot of bad press since you guys pretty much blew up the city a few months ago. This is an ideal opportunity to help counterbalance that.'
Clint yawned and stretched like a cat. 'Sure, I'm game. Any takers?' He winked at Bruce. 'Hey babe, wanna make HulkEye canon?'
Under the table, Bruce's fist clenched. 'I'm not spreading false rumours just to satisfy someone's- someone's fantasy,' he snapped. 'We have a job to do here.'
Beside him, Steve held out a hand. 'Thank you, Bruce. Director, I fail to see how this is going to help anyone - '
'No one said anything about faking a relationship, Captain. I'm just saying that if we were to publicly acknowledge it with a wink and a smile...'
Tony raised his hand. 'Both of which are things you can't do.'
'...then it might renew some support for what we're doing here.' Fury directed his stare at Bruce. 'So people like writing stories where you get big, green and horny. So what? It's better than news reports about the Hulk being a mindless monster, right?'
Bruce swallowed hard and licked his lips reflexively. His fist clenched even harder under the table. 'It's stupid,' he muttered.
Tony shrugged, twirling a pen through his fingers. 'The way I see it, we're a team of sexy, irresistable badasses.' He cocked his head to one side. 'Plus Cap. Why not take advantage of that?'
Fury pointed at him. 'Stop pretending this was your idea. But yes. I want everyone on board with this.'
Thor put down his phone, frowning. 'They certainly have a vivid imagination. Why are there so many stories of my brother and I fornicating?'
It was Steve's turn to blush. 'I'm glad you see the problem here. Thor, back us up on this. I can't believe we're even having this conversation.'
But Thor merely shrugged. 'Telling such stories does not make them true. Let the people of Midgard weave their tales of debauchery. I'm sure Loki would be flattered.'
Tony beamed and clapped him on the shoulder. 'You heard the man! Alright, I'll set us up at a press conference. Don't worry, I'll send you plenty of reading material.'
As everyone continued to argue and Steve and Tony began another verbal sparring match, Bruce stared down at the table and willed himself to take deeper breaths. It was humiliating. It was untrue. It was -
A hand curled over his clenched fist. 'Bruce,' said Thor softly, 'it's alright. They are only stories.'
That was precisely the problem, Bruce thought unhappily, but he closed his eyes until breathing was easier. They could go to a press conference, make asses of themselves and then it would all blow over. Fury was right, he'd endured plenty of bad press before now. This was nothing in comparison.
When he opened his eyes again he felt calmer, and Thor let go of his hand to rejoin the discussion.
'Bruce has had a crush on Thor for months,' said Clint casually. 'It's just never occurred to him that his feelings might be reciprocated.'
Bruce looked up in shock, eyes wide. 'What?' Beside him, Thor had gone very still.
Clint was staring at his phone. 'Ooh, you both go on a camping trip during a storm. Rated mature.' He grinned. 'Can't wait to see what happens next.'
Bruce didn't give Fury time to stop him before he marched out of the room.
'Could you have laid it on any thicker?' said Nat with a roll of her eyes as she settled in the back of the limo.
'I like to give the people what they want,' Tony replied with a smile.
Bruce stared determinedly out of the tinted glass window as they drove away. He felt far too hot in this suit, and being bombarded with questions about the other guy always left him feeling tired and drained. But mostly he was angry.
"Sure, the big guy's great in battle but have you met Brucie? Greatest mind in any room - unless I'm in there too, of course." Tony had slung a matey arm over Bruce's shoulders and winked at the cameras. "Gotta stick close to my Science Bro."
The media had eaten it up.
The internet would go crazy at the acknowledgement... and then probably speculate if he and Tony were indeed more than friends. Bruce knew for a goddam fact that Tony was devoted to Pepper and had zero interest in being with anyone else, but the papers didn't.
Even Nat had gone along with it, smiling demurely in her tight red dress as she mentioned how close she and Steve had grown lately. Clint had hinted that saving the world together created very strong friendships - nudge, wink.
He looked at the man sitting opposite him. Thor looked uncomfortable in a suit and tie, his long hair swept back in a ponytail. The shirt they'd given him was far too small, the fabric stretched taut over his broad chest. And the pants...
Thor raised his head and caught him looking.
Bruce gulped and quickly returned to looking out of the window.
'You wanna know what I learned today?' said Clint, his tie already undone and hanging loosely from his shoulders. 'They have ship names for threesomes too. Guess what they call Tony, Steve and Bruce.'
'Do enlighten us,' Steve sighed.
'Stark Spangled Banner!' He grinned. 'Come on, that's pretty clever.'
Nat plucked the tie off his shoulders and practiced tying knots in it. 'Do you jack off reading stories about yourself, Barton?'
'Well, I did read one where I shot an archery target with my jizz. Man, if I could do that I wouldn't be doing this job, lemme tell ya.'
Despite himself, Bruce had to hide a smile. At least everyone appreciated how silly it all was.
He glanced up and caught Thor watching him. 'Tell me Clint,' said Thor innocently, 'what is the ship name for Bruce and I?'
'GammaHammer,' said Tony immediately. 'When I'm not fucking Bruce, it's usually Thor. He gets passed around a lot.'
Bruce gritted his teeth. 'I'm glad you've studied the dynamics.'
'I like the name.' Thor smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. 'Is there much of it?'
'Dude.' Clint got up and nudged Steve out of the way so he could sit beside him and show him his phone. 'You could fill a library. This ones three hundred thousand words! That's three books!'
Thor frowned down at the phone. 'I don't understand these tags. What is frottage?'
Tony perked up and opened his mouth. Natasha pointed a finger at him. 'Don't corrupt him.'
Then Clint glanced up at Bruce with glee in his eyes. 'Here's a good one. It's called How Thor Got Inside Bruce Banner - And Not in the Fun Way.' He held up the phone and read the summary: '"Bruce and Thor swap bodies and there's only one way to change back. But it's just platonic magical sex, right?" Ha! "In which Thor is the king of mixed signals and Bruce is an oblivious cinnamon roll." Looks pretty steamy.'
'Clint,' said Bruce quietly, and everyone looked at him. 'If you read a single word of that aloud, I will Hulk out right here and you'll be walking home. Probably in crutches.'
Clint opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, then hastily put his phone away. 'Got it, Doc.'
Cheeks aflame, Bruce glared out of the window and said nothing for the rest of the ride home.
The whole fandom thing was stupid. Bruce had made it no secret that he disapproved of it.
No one needed to know that he'd actually read all the emails Tony and Clint had sent to him. And done some research of his own, too.
It had started as a "know your enemy" thing. If the press were going to grill him, he wanted to be informed (and maybe learn not to blush at the first mention of Brutasha or American Pi or whatever). So he scrolled through various different tags and tried to understand what exactly people got out of it.
Of course there were millions of stories about Tony and Steve. The charismatic and conventionally-attractive Avengers got the most attention, of course. But he was surprised to see a decent number were about himself.
Mainly being fucked by Tony.
'Not accurate,' he grumbled, flicking the offending material off the screen. He could understand the others' inclusion, but why him? Everyone had probably fantasised about what Thor looked like naked, for example, but Bruce? Usually people looked at him and just saw the Hulk. And if you took away the Hulk, he was... well, pretty ordinary to look at.
Hm, ThorBruce was pretty popular, actually. Some of it was... really well-written. Objectively speaking.
He skimmed through a few, flicking them off the screen when he was finished. He found a couple that might have made even Tony blush. But the majority of them were actually very gentle: Thor comforting Bruce after a Hulk-out, or making thunderstorms for him, or Bruce confessing his feelings in an alternate universe where there was no Hulk or godly superpowers... it made something ache deep in his chest.
'Maybe you should tell him.'
Bruce jumped, startled. Nat sat cross-legged on the workbench opposite him, as if she'd been there all this time. She was wearing a baggy t-shirt and jeans, and her feet were bare. She wore a far-too-knowing expression.
And dammit there was the blush again. 'Tell who? What are you talking about?' he stuttered.
She smiled. 'Tell Tony. That it's bothering you. Maybe then he'll stop teasing you.'
'Oh. Uh. Yeah.' Guiltily, he flicked the last of the fanfic off the screen. 'No, it's fine. I've dealt with enough bad press, if anything I should be flattered.'
Nat's eyes met his unblinkingly. 'Sure you're okay? You've been down here for hours.' She slid down off the workbench. 'Dinner's ready in five. Come feed that big brain of yours.' Before he could come up with an excuse, she was walking out of the lab. 'No ifs or buts, Banner.'
When he was sure she was gone, Bruce let out a long breath. As he turned away to gather up his things, he caught sight of the huge digital whiteboard hovering by the wall.
It turned out that flicking to the right didn't close the page after all. It just moved it to the larger screen.
Bruce stared in horror at the thirty-seven open tabs of sappy, sexual ThorBruce fanfiction. Nat would have seen it the second she walked in.
'Fuck.' He removed his glasses and ran his hands through his hair. How much longer could he keep this a secret?
'Okay, everyone in position?' Tony's voice was crystal-clear through Bruce's earpiece.
'Confirmed,' said Steve.
'Aye,' said Thor.
'Here,' said Natasha.
'Yup,' said Clint.
'I'm ready.' Bruce sipped his mug of tea and straightened his glasses, then swivelled in his chair to survey all the screens. 'I've got camera feeds, heat signatures, everything. First wave is coming at you from the east, you've got maybe two minutes.'
'What's our play?' asked Natasha.
Steve started to say something, but Tony got in there first. 'I'm thinking me and Thor come in first and hit em with some serious ThunderIron. Then Steve and Nat shave off whatever's left, Romanogers-style.'
There was a five-second baffled silence in which Bruce quietly put his head in his hands.
'I don't understand,' said Steve, though he sounded as if he had an idea and he wasn't happy about it.
'Hey, why aren't I paired up with anyone?' Clint whined.
'Fine, you get Nat. Clintasha. Happy?'
'Ew, no dude! And we talked about this. BlackEye sounds way better.'
'Boys, can we focus?' said Natasha coldly. 'Bruce, how are we doing?'
Bruce returned his gaze to the monitors. 'No change, still eastward. Wait - no, there's another group coming in from the west. Pincer movement. I've got lots of heat signatures but nothing too large.'
'Okay, new strategy,' said Steve. 'Tony, you and Nat take the east wave. Clint and I will take the west. And - '
Tony interrupted. 'So what you're saying is you want IronWidow on the east and Amerihawk on the west?'
'That's not very fair, Cap.' There was a smirk in Clint's voice. 'Now Thor doesn't have a partner. You'll make him sad.'
Thor chuckled. 'I can be paired with Bruce. We work well together. Or so I've read.'
Bruce choked on his tea.
'Hell yeah dude! Let's get some GammaHamma up in this bitch!' Clint whooped.
'Can everyone FOCUS!' Steve's shout actually made Bruce wince and clutch his ear. 'Thor is going to be taking the aerial view and protecting the central area. I don't want to hear another word about ship names. We're here to save the world and do our jobs, so can everyone please keep their minds on the battlefield and out of the gutter until we're done here?'
There was a moment of calm, in which Bruce attempted to get his blush under control and rubbed at the tea stain on his shirt.
The explosion rumbled through the earpiece. 'I'll save my angst for after the whump,' Tony called. 'Explicit violence warning incoming!'
Bruce sighed and got to work.
Three hours later, the situation had gone to shit and Steve had declared a code green. Hulk helped to turn the tide of the battle - or at least that was what Thor told him as he came to on the bunk in the Quinjet. 'He fought admirably,' he told him, eyes alight with the thrill of the fight. 'Tis a pity you couldn't have seen him.'
'Yeah. I'm really sorry I missed that.' He rubbed his face tiredly and found it smeared with dust and dirt. Someone had dressed him in the emergency pants and thrown a blanket over him. His stomach ached with nausea and he felt a little drunk; de-Hulking always caused a crazy rush of endorphins.
Thor's hand stroked his hair. Bruce looked up blearily to find him picking out bits of rubble. 'Your big friend decided to acquaint himself with a few buildings along the way,' he said with a soft smile. There was a cut across his cheek.
WIthout consciously deciding to, Bruce reached up to trace the edge of it with his finger. 'Makes you look ruggedly handsome,' he murmured. Then realised what he'd said as someone snorted.
'Leave him alone, Clint,' Steve muttered. 'He's had a rough day.'
Bruce snatched his hand back and sat up to see the other Avengers sitting along the opposite wall, looking tired and battleworn. Clint was looking a little sheepish. 'Did I hurt anyone?' he asked.
Tony shook his head. 'Only the bad guys. And they deserved it.' He was still wearing his armour, minus the helmet. 'Who's down for pizza? I want pizza, all the trimmings. Fuck it, I'll get JARVIS to order everything. You want pizza?'
Bruce smiled and lay back down. 'I could eat some pizza,' he admitted.
Thor drew the blanket back over him and resumed the stroking of his hair. It drew a happy sigh from Bruce, who closed his eyes and prayed that Thor would never, ever stop. This was heavenly. He really wished the others weren't here because he was in danger of saying some really stupid shit. 'Feels nice,' he mumbled.
But Thor merely chuckled and continued. 'What is it the Midgardians call this? Harming and consoling?'
Natasha groaned. There was a grin in Tony's voice. 'Hurt/comfort. See? Even Thor gets it. You know, there's a ton of fanfic where we don't bone and we all just take care of each other and sit around eating donuts. It's actually pretty nice. Although a lot of the nice ones also involve someone getting their ass stuffed - Steve if you hit me you're not getting any pizza.'
'Then stop turning everything into your damn fanfiction. Just because Fury approves doesn't mean I do.'
'You love me really. Ten thousand Stony stories suggest you love me a lot.' The accompanying eyebrow wiggle was almost audible.
'Not if I lived for a million years.'
'Hey, don't ship bash.'
Bruce tuned out their bickering and floated in dreamlike contentment. Thor was here. Thor was touching him and looking after him and it was everything his careful little heart wanted...
'Love you,' he muttered, then ice stabbed through his heart. 'I mean - this. Love this.' He opened his eyes as the hand in his hair stilled.
Thor was still smiling, though his eyebrows had raised in amusement. The others continued to argue - thank god they hadn't heard. 'I'm glad to hear it,' he said gently, his hand drifting down to briefly stroke Bruce's cheek. 'Get some rest, friend. I will keep the others out of trouble.'
Bruce obeyed, though a little part of him broke at Thor's use of the word "friend".
Bruce wasn't avoiding Thor.
Okay maybe a little bit.
He started working in the lab even more than usual, only leaving to eat or sleep (and sometimes not even then). Thor hadn't mentioned his drunken slipup, ever the gentleman, but something had changed in the way the god looked at him. As soon as Bruce walked in he would acknowledge his presence with a big smile and then become uncharacteristically quiet.
Clint had sent out another email explaining what fluff was and providing helpful examples. Bruce had deleted it immediately. It was all just salt in wounds he shouldn't have in the first place.
Bruce set up yet another chemistry experiment. Then he tidied his workspace and banished half a dozen coffee mugs. And then he checked his phone.
One new email. From Thor.
Bruce's stomach lurched. Thor never emailed him. Or texted him.
There was no message, only a link. To a familiar website.
'Not you too,' he groaned, clicking on it anyway. It was called An Ode to the Scientist:
Thor was not good with words.
He was good at many things, for he was a god. And a handsome one at that. He had fought off armies of frost giants with only his hammer and his incredible Asgardian strength - but Thor digresses.
Since he had joined the Avengers, Thor felt as though he'd found a family. Clever Tony, noble Steve, witty Clint and kind Natasha.
And then there was Bruce.
At first, Thor hadn't known what to make of the quiet scientist. But over time they bonded over Midgardian fried breakfasts and quiet evenings watching space documentaries. Bruce was calm, thoughtful and strong-willed. He was a man of science in a room full of warriors, and people often seemed to underestimate him.
Thor cared for Bruce very dearly, as he did all of his friends. Bruce always found the time to explain things to him, ensure that he felt included when Tony made an obscure Midgardian pop culture reference, or when Fury gave him a phone and he had no clue how to use it (since then Thor has learned to take amazing selfies!).
Bruce's mouth had gone dry. It was too specific to be fiction. His hand shook slightly as he scrolled down.
And then Thor began to notice all sorts of things about Bruce that he hadn't before. Thor loved watching him in the lab, his clever fingers manipulating screens and scribbling notes. He loved the soft smile that played upon his lips when he was telling a story. He loved his kind brown eyes and careless curls. But most of all, Thor loved Bruce's steadfast soul.
Perhaps one day he would tell him. Perhaps Bruce already knew. Thor was content to have him as a friend. But should the scientist wish otherwise, he need only ask. Either way, Thor was happy to enjoy his company.
By the time Bruce had finished reading, his heart was hammering. The story had been posted today. The email was two hours old.
'JARVIS,' he said shakily, removing his glasses, 'Where's Thor?'
'He is in the kitchen, preparing lunch.'
Bruce stuffed his phone in his pocket and hurried out of the lab, his experiment completely forgotten.
Thor was indeed in the kitchen, vigorously whisking something in a bowl. 'Bruce!' There was that wide smile again. 'I'm making pancakes. Well, Buzzfeed is helping me. Are you hungry?'
Words caught in his throat. He nodded.
'Good, good.' He looked down and whisked a little harder, a faint frown creasing his forehead. And there was the awkward silence again. 'I um, I hear that Tony makes good pancakes. Not that he ever makes them because he has his machines to do it for him, but Nat told me he does. Clint hates pancakes, which I couldn't believe at first...'
'The story you sent me.' Slowly, Bruce walked up to him. 'Kinda different to what Tony's been sending us.'
Thor stopped whisking. His shoulders slumped. 'I thought you should see both sides of the - of the fandom.' His bright blue eyes hesitantly rose to meet him. 'Did you like it?'
Bruce kissed him.
Thor made a surprised 'Hm' noise before eagerly kissing him back. His lips were warm and sweet; clearly he'd been "testing" the maple syrup while he worked.
Then Thor leaned in too far and cold pancake batter slopped down Bruce's front. 'Oh, I'm sorry...' He put the bowl to one side and scrabbled for some kitchen paper.
Bruce smiled. 'It's fine.' But he wasn't complaining as Thor curled an arm around his waist so he could dab at his shirt. 'I can't believe you wrote fanfiction about me.'
'Odes are an ancient part of Asgardian courtship,' he said indignantly. 'I merely... gave mine a Midgardian twist. I found much of the other stories lacking. What is that phrase, "write what you want to read"?' He rubbed the back of his neck, suddenly shy. 'You might not be the star of everyone's story...' He pressed a (slightly sticky) kiss to Bruce's forehead. '...but you are the star of mine.'
Something warm blossomed in Bruce's chest. He found himself backed against the kitchen counter with a mouthful of Thor. Hands tangled in his hair and it was a hundred times better than on the Quinjet.
Thor's lips parted under his tongue and he sighed happily as Bruce wrapped his arms around his neck.
Bruce hated fanfiction. But perhaps he could make an exception.
They were so focused on each other that neither of them noticed Clint and Tony freezing in the doorway of the kitchen, wearing identical shocked expressions. Tony silently punched the air and Clint mouthed "I knew it! I knew it!" as they backed out of the room.
The fans could imagine all they liked. But all of the Avengers shipped GammaHammer.