Because Fortune often does favor the bold – and the incredibly foolish – their little band of misfits actually managed to weather the next few close encounters with terrestrial and extraterrestrial lunatics with only a few scrapes and bruises. Bruce was far from surprised, however, when the inevitable day came that he surfaced from the Other Guy to find Natasha grimly rendering mouth-to-mouth to an unconscious Clint Barton as Steve – no, Captain America – barked into his comm unit for emergency medical evac now, son, before I put my boot in places on you that God never intended boots to go. Bruce had always thought it hilarious when people discovered to their surprise that the icon of America’s greatest generation had more than a passing familiarity with cursing and inventive cursing at that. The Army had always been the Army, after all.
Much later, after Clint’s god-awful, day-long surgical adventures to piece back together bone and muscle, blood vessels and ruptured viscera, after they’d finally been allowed to congregate around his bedside and stare in morbid fascination at his unconscious body, suspended on the knife edge of life and death through a combination of modern technology and sheer, ungodly strength of will, after they’d trooped back to Tony’s unapologetic attempt at phallic overcompensation, Steve slammed a fist into his thigh and turned to them, fire blazing in those fearless blue eyes.
“That’s it. We’re doing this team bonding exercise bullshit and I’m not accepting any excuses.”
Which was exactly like waving a red flag at an enraged bull as far as Tony was concerned. Bruce sighed and scrubbed at the unidentifiable dried gunk in his hair as the two faced off.
“—think our team’s built just fine,” Tony muttered, eyeing Natasha on reflex before flinching. “Don’t kill me.”
“Our team is not fine. Clint’s going to spend the next three months in Rehab because you decided bombing the hell out of Battery Park made more sense than backing up a team mate.”
“Oh. So this is my fault now?”
“If you’d been where you were supposed to be—”
“If you two would just fuck already, the rest of us would get more sleep,” Bruce grumbled then because he’d momentarily lost his goddamn mind. For one minute, his world flashed green as he stared up into the stunned faces of his team mates.
Then Natasha grinned at him.
“I didn’t mean that,” he blurted out, too late and entirely too desperate to be plausible.
“Yes, you did,” she insisted.
“Aye,” Thor agreed unhelpfully, looking actually worn for once. “Our friend Banner has the right of it. This strange courtship has proven most exhausting to witness. It would be best if you concluded matters sooner rather than later.”
“For god’s sake, don’t agree with me! It’s just battle fatigue, gamma radiation induced encephalopathy, brain damage even—” Bruce yelled but it was already too late. Captain America was bearing down on him like an F-18, missiles armed and locked.
“Dr. Banner,” Cap said in the deceptively soft tone that generally meant he was pissed off beyond all human comprehension. Bruce flinched. “For that, you get to pick our first movie.”
Not really. They weren't really going to do a team bonding movie night like a group of pre-adolescent girls, were they? Next they’d be trooping off to a Justin Bieber concert together. Frankly, Bruce would rather let them guide him blindfolded through a minefield. Hadn't he read that was a corporate trust building activity in an in-flight magazine once? Well, minus the actual mines but the point stood.
"I had nothing to do with the Battery Park thing.”
But Cap had already marched back into the elevator, no doubt intent on sequestering himself in the gym until all punching bags on the premises were rendered defunct and in need of replacement. Even Tony just shot him an injured look before scampering off towards the labs. Bruce hesitated. Normally, he’d be joining Tony, scarfing down ramen noodles boiled over a Bunsen burner as he tried to forget his time as the Other Guy and bury himself in the soothing ebb and flow of science instead. This time, the lab promised to be anything but a refuge.
As he stood there, undecided, stolen pants held up around his hips with a rope, Natasha slapped his back and began unfastening her utility belt.
“I hear ‘Inception’ got good Netflix reviews,” she said before abandoning him, too.
Because no Avenger ever stayed in medical once the life support came off, Clint was back at the tower within forty-eight hours. Three nights later, Bruce blinked as the lights came on in the living room, marking the end of what had to be two and a half of the most confusing hours of his recent past.
“I do not understand.” Predictably, Thor was the first to confess. “Was he still dreaming? Or did he truly return to his family?”
“I think Tom Hardy is hot,” Clint announced around a yawn.
Natasha stared at him as he stretched and reached for his crutches. “That’s your final take on the greater metaphysical question?”
“Yeah, not really into that sort of thing.”
The two spies grinned at each other.
“There go two hours of my life I’m never getting back,” Tony mourned, touch pad already in hand, feet already moving inexorably towards the labs. “Thanks for that, Cap.”
“Stark,” Steve murmured warningly, the effect somewhat marred by the confusion still swimming in his eyes. “Play nice.”
“I’m always nice.” Even Thor snorted. Tony shrugged, unrepentant. “For a certain definition of ‘nice’. Great movie choice there, Brucie.”
“It got good reviews on Netflix,” he parroted idiotically because – truthfully – he’d never bothered checking.
Natasha met his accusing glare with a quirk of her brow. “Whatever. If I find any of you sneaking into my room with a syringe and hose, I will kill you where you stand before you can figure it out. Good night.”
“She was looking at you,” Tony said to him as she and Clint vanished into the elevator.
“Only because I was standing at the front,” Bruce muttered.
“’Fess up, Doctor. Are you banging the superspy?”
Steve scowled. “Hey! Even I know that’s not nice. Bruce, next time, maybe a more – basic – choice?”
Next time? There was going to be a next time? This was a nightmare – a never-ending one now that SHIELD had him firmly in their sights and escaping to third world hell holes promised absolutely no relief.
“Next time, you pick,” Bruce replied and shuffled into the kitchen to make some tea. Even if he did drink, there was not enough alcohol on the planet to survive this.