A/N: I'm taking a trip to Catalina tomorrow, so I decided to post tonight. Here's the big finale. And see Captain America2 as soon as you can. Freaking awesome and inspiring (fanfic-wise).
Chapter 4: Superhero
Cap futilely raised his shield to protect his companions from the urban avalanche. As he ducked beside the boy and puppy, he was jostled from behind. He heard the sound of ripping cloth, then Bruce's shout became the Hulk's roar of defiance.
The camera had swung from the cute puppy rescue to capture images of the falling leviathan. The crew had jogged into the middle of the street to for a better angle.
The sound of cracking concrete close at hand made the camera swing back in time to see Cap leap into the danger zone to futilely shelter the others.
And then Dr. Banner swelled and turned green, like a time-lapse film of a growing plant.
In an instant, the Hulk loomed over Cap and the boy. He roared defiance at the plummeting wall and grabbed it out of the air. He held it by the edge, as a man might hold a wooden plank.
Keeping his shield raised to deflect falling rocks, Cap looked up as the shadow of the concrete slab fell across him. It hovered above him like a very low ceiling supported by a few green fingers.
"Cap move," Hulk ordered.
Steve swept boy and dog into his arms beneath the shield and sprinted to a safe distance.
Hulk grunted satisfaction and let the slab drop with a contemptuous snort.
He stalked toward Steve. "Cap hurt?"
"I'm fine, thanks to you." In truth, Steve's back was bruised and battered by smaller pieces of debris, but it was so much less than he had feared.
"You saved us! Thanks Mr. Hulk." Adam threw his arms around the Hulk's waist.
Bemused but not unpleased by the gratitude, Hulk patted the boy on his head and did the same for the dog.
Though the man looked different, Fluffy could tell by scent that he was the same person as the nice man who rescued him from the cage. The puppy happily licked Hulk's finger.
Hulk smiled – then his eyes rolled up and he began to shrink and change color.
Cap instantly moved to protect his friend.
Iron Man rocketed back, too late to help but relieved to see everyone was all right. He dropped beside the camera crew.
"You got that, right?" he almost begged.
"Every second," the cameraman replied, dazed by visions of Pulitzers dancing in his head.
"If your station doesn't want to run it, I will pay to run it as a commercial," Tony promised.
"Oh, they'll run it," the reporter promised.
"Tony." Cap's commanding tone snagged the billionaire's attention.
"What do you need, captain?" Tony asked breezily.
Tony realized Cap had positioned himself and his shield strategically between the camera and half-conscious Bruce who was only half-wearing the remains of his stretched out clothing.
"Pants. Right." Tony launched toward the top floor of the "A" Tower. "On it."
That night, after a full afternoon of cleanup, Tony handed out drinks as promised to a Super Soldier, a thunder god and two anonymous SHIELD agents who had shown up with a bottle of Russian vodka and a bucket of nearly toxic Buffalo chicken wings. Thor had a huge souvenir beer stein full of beer while everyone else was happy with normal glasses of beer and wine (or shots of vodka).
Bruce declined alcohol, but accepted iced tea from Pepper and hungrily gnawed on the wings that made Pepper's eyes water from a foot away.
"So you're saying that Ross exposed me as a monster," Bruce said anxiously.
"But then we showed the 'monster' has a human side," Tony said with satisfaction.
"We?" Clint asked, raising one eyebrow ironically.
"Jarvis and me," Tony answered. "We are flooding the Internet with feel-good images as we speak." He flopped on the couch with a wince and a groan. "This is not what I planned when I said take a day," he complained. "I'm stiffer than I was this morning."
"Another soak in the hot tub would be good," Clint hinted.
"Ever take a communal soak in a hot tub, Cap?" Tony asked with a salacious grin Steve recognized from his father.
"Been in a hot spring in Baden Baden, but not in mixed company," Steve answered warily.
"Mixed company's the best kind," Clint assured him, which earned him a dope slap from Natasha.
"Don't worry, Steve, the wearing of swimsuits will be strictly enforced," Pepper said, giving Tony a severe look. Pepper and Natasha exchanged a nod of accord.
"Strictly enforced," Natasha emphasized, twirling a knife between her fingers.
"Spoilsports," Tony muttered.
Swimsuits were distributed from the collection of clothes kept for guests. Natasha and Pepper found the most sedate suits available, one-piece versions with modest necklines. Natasha's even had a little skirt. They weren't too far off the common ladies swimsuit of the 1940s, but Steve, being a gentleman, kept his eyes firmly on their faces. Clint and Tony rolled their eyes, but the ladies found it refreshing.
However, they couldn't keep their eyes of Steve's torso. It was covered in dark bruises from falling rocks — bruises that were visibly changing colors and fading while they watched.
"That's from when the wall fell?" Bruce asked. He looked guilty, as if his alter ego should have caught every pebble. Steve assured him the bruises would be gone by morning.
"That's disturbing," Tony said, watching the colors change.
"I'm jealous," Clint announced. His back was just as black and blue, but he would have to put up with it for far longer.
"Get in the water, so we don't have to see any more," Tony suggested.
Both Steve and Clint were quick to do so. Bruises called for ice, but sore muscles demanded hot water. Everyone was glad to soak quietly for a bit, eating sandwiches from platters placed around the spa and sipping cool drinks.
Steve and the spies shared memories of Baden Baden, while Pepper and Tony chimed in with their favorite spa in the south of France. Thor told about the royal hot springs in Asgard and Bruce described a thermal mud pool that had been a lifesaver in South America.
Finally, Tony said, "How are we doing, J? Is the rehabilitation of Dr. Bruce Banner complete?"
"800,568 views on YouTube," the AI reported. "507,928 likes on Facebook — half of those are for the photograph of the puppy licking Hulk, a quarter for the puppy licking Dr. Banner and most of the rest are for the photo of Captain America standing in front of Dr. Banner after he changed back. I regret that most of those have deplorably salacious comments."
"About Cap's tight pants or Bruce's no pants?" Tony asked curiously.
Steve and Bruce both slapped their faces to hide their embarrassment.
"I'll have to read those later," Tony decided. "What else have we got?"
"The Pinterest gallery is generating much interest and the Twitter photos are being retweeted at such a rate that even I am hard pressed to keep track. Overall, the response is 90 percent favorable. Dr. Banner is trending, sir."
Thor tilted his head closer to Steve's. "The All Speak is failing me. I understand these words, but the sentences have no meaning. What do bird calls have to do with Banner?"
"You're asking the wrong guy," Steve replied. "But I'm pretty sure they're not talking about carrier pigeons."
The two men looked at the two spies.
Clint threw a frantic look at Natasha.
"Sorry, I don't speak English," she said in Russian and slugged back a shot of vodka before pouring another to sip.
Thor chuckled at her evasion. Clint and Steve rolled their eyes. That was one of the foreign phrases Steve had learned during the war.
Natasha gave Clint a firm glare. He needed to take his mind off Loki. Explaining Stark to Thor and Steve was a good start.
Clint sighed. "OK, social media in 25 words or less," the archer agreed. (He almost said Social Media for Dummies, but the two blonds wouldn't get the reference and he'd hate to offend them when he didn't have his bow handy.)
"All this falls under the term 'social media,' which is a way people communicate via computers."
"Why do many?" Steve asked.
"Different things appeal to different people," Clint explained. He racked his brain to find a comparison the guys would understand. "Like radio stations or groups of entertainers. Some people like comedy, some like drama. On the Internet, some people like to look at photos — Pinterest is mostly photo galleries. YouTube is movies. Twitter uses brief messages with maybe a photo attached. Facebook is more like a bulletin board, you put up a comment or photo and your friends stick notes beside it."
"Don't tell me you made Hulk a Facebook page," Bruce groaned
"OK, I won't tell you," Tony said cheerfully. "But more than a quarter million people have friended him so far and at least 30 have added that he — you — saved their lives during the battle."
Clint continued, "Anyway, Tony and Jarvis ..."
"Mostly Jarvis," Pepper put in.
"... are sending out information to every site they can think of and other people are picking it up and passing it along. So millions of people have seen what a good guy Banner is."
"Whatever color his skin is," Thor agreed.
"You forgot LinkedIn," Pepper said in amusement, looking up from her personal StarkPad.
"LinkedIn?" Bruce protested. "That's for business networking. People list their accomplishments and their skills," he told Steve and Thor.
"That's right," Pepper agreed. She showed Bruce her screen. Dr. Bruce Banner's almost forgotten LinkedIn page had been updated with an image of Hulk saving Cap and the kid with the message, New skill: Superhero.