Disclaimer: The author owns none of the characters or other aspects of the Avengers Franchise.
Note: After watching Age of Ultron, I have gone crazy for Brucenat, despite its controversy. I like it, I think it was pretty well done, and after reading some really lovely fics about them, I just had to get one done to try and exorcise this shipper energy so I can get back to my other projects.
I hope you enjoy.
There was really only one word for it.
Plain and simple as that. Once there had been a vast complex dug into a mesa deep in a south american forest.
Now there was no complex, the mesa's structural integrity was looking sketchy, and quite a bit of forest was now mulch.
"Is everyone clear?" Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow asked into her new and improved Stark earpiece. The Iron Man himself answered her.
"Yeah, everyone's out, med teams are hauling the last of the bad guys to the helipad for airlift."
"Almost everyone." That would be the Captain, concerned as ever.
"True, seems Bruce and change took exception to being fired on. Those Hydra guys must have some really bad intel."
"Hey, serves 'em right for attacking a medical convoy that was, let's face it, meant mostly for them." That was her best friend, Clint Barton, Hawkeye.
"Is there nothing we can do for the good Doctor Banner?" Thor asked.
"Nah, it's one thing when Bruce decides to change, when it's spontaneous like this it can take him a while to calm down." Tony replied. "Best thing we can do right now is give him a wide berth. You guys go ahead and pull out. I'll park a Quinjet at the base of the mountain and wait for him to come back."
Natasha looked down from her high ground at the giant who stood amid the wreckage, continuing to pulverize rocks the size of her body into dust like clumps of brown sugar.
"Nat, I'm at the rendezvous point, what's your eta?" She heard Clint ask.
She remembered the first time she had seen the Hulk in person. She'd read all the reports, seen all the footage, thought she'd been afraid.
Life or death situations were common enough for her, hazard of the biz. There had been plenty of dark moments where she had thought this is where I die.
With the Hulk it had not been like that. There was no thought or regret or plan. She hadn't had any coherent thoughts at all. Something old and reptile that her mother's mother's mother she had forgotten existed had woken up and there had been nothing but movement.
Her whole life down to one word, to one, billion year old year old instinct.
After she escaped she had just laughed, without any control or decency as her brain flooded her with chemicals and all her complexity and experience and dimension burned to ash against a burning word.
"Hey, Nat, you reading me?"
"I'm here." She said when she trusted her voice.
"Well get your butt in gear, I swear I've lost a pint of blood to mosquitoes already."
She tried swallowing but her mouth was dry.
"Yeah, about that. Why don't you go on ahead, I'll catch a ride back with Stark."
"...Nat, I recognize that tone. It's your 'I have a really bad idea' tone."
"I have a really bad idea tone?"
"What are you planning to do?"
"Don't worry about it, just...keep Cap off my back okay?"
Her friend gave a long-suffering sigh.
"Fine, I just hope you know what you're doing."
Natasha didn't respond, she just started making her way down to the field of rubble.
"The 'fight-or-flight' thing is really too simplistic." Agent McGill had once told her as she pulled apart a butter croissant in the old Helicarrier's cafeteria. It was starting to get packed with agents scrounging for breakfast, but Natasha could always count on getting a table to herself.
"Is that so?"
The young biologist nodded. Most agents gave the infamous Black Widow a wide berth, and Natasha could count on one hand the members of S.H.I.E.L.D who weren't afraid of her. McGill was one, though the girl was hardly her friend. Natasha only had one friend. Rather, Natasha had always gotten the feeling that McGill found her a particularly intriguing specimen to study.
"Yep, studies of early tribal cultures and other social mammals, Chimpanzees in particular, suggests that, in it's natural state, human combat rarely devolves to the kind of casual violence that you and people like you are trained for, no offence."
The woman didn't give Natasha a chance to respond to the comment one way or the other as she plowed on.
"No, I'd like to add some bits to the old adage. So a conflict starts, and there are about four possible options. There's fight, flight, posture, and submit.
Natasha climbed up the pile of rubble until she was only a few yards away. Since the Avengers had re-assembled, she had done her best to be far away whenever Doctor Banner's alter ego had been needed. She had forgotten how big he was. Easily two to three times taller than a normal human. So far he seemed not to see her as he swung a support beam of reinforced steel around in his hand and crumpled it like a paper fan.
The Hulk roared like a roll of thunder that echoed off the hills and through the trees. Natasha felt the sound shake her bones and tremble her heart. The gasp was involuntary and it was heard. The Hulk whirled with a speed that belonged nowhere near something so massive and now it was staring her down and an old snake coiled around her spine was whispering.
She stamped it down and stood in place as the mass of green muscle threw himself forward, massive hands crashing down on either side of her and roared again just a foot from her face.
She barely heard it over her own pulse in her ears.
She crouched down, keeping her eyes down, hands held out to either side, supine.
The Hulk continued growling and huffing but she just sat there, thinking very carefully of nothing but the Hulk jumping into the sky to stop Tony Stark, crashing toward New York, an Iron Comet; the Hulk, twisting in mid air to shield Tony from the impact with the asphalt.
"Ultimately, the idea was to protect people." Doctor Banner had said to her once late at night as they both indulged in some suspiciously cheap and fast delivery Thai food.
The other Avengers were long asleep, and scenes like this had become increasingly common ever since Natasha learned that Doctor Banner was one of the few people on Earth that slept as little as she did.
"You know, I'm sure, about what happened to my mother."
Natasha chewed slowly and nodded. It had been in the file, but now she felt guilty about having known.
"Don't worry, I'm not offended or anything, I understand." He gave her one of his little smiles that would flit in and out of existence. "But I think that's why I did it. I mean, when you just stop and think about it, the idea 'hey let's take this old super-soldier recipe that we only have half of and have never successfully reproduced and shoot it full of Gamma radiation to see if that fixes the bugs' is really the kind of mad-science idea you only see in pulp sci-fi."
Natasha gave him an assenting lift of her eyebrow and tilt of her head.
"I just wanted...I don't know." He turned away from her, somewhere far now. "I just wanted to make people stronger, to make them...safe."
The Hulk finally decided not to pulp her or snap her or any of the thousand things it could do to kill her. It backed away from her and turned around, losing interest.
Natasha gulped for oxygen and tried to get her spaghettified legs to obey her.
The Hulk was stalking away from her, heading back into the forest.
"Hey," she croaked. "Hey, wait." A little louder now.
He turned and looked at her as she found her feet. He snorted and turned back, lumbering toward the forest, just slow enough for her to catch up.
"Doc, what are you still doing up?" Natasha had found her way into one of Stark Tower's many labs at four in the morning. She hadn't gotten used to thinking of it as 'Avenger's Tower'.
Doctor Banner was sitting in a rolling office chair, staring at what looked like some kind of spectrographic analysis.
The chair swiveled so he could face her and he smiled.
"Just getting some work done. You?"
"I'm used to burning the midnight oil. Back when I had a job, there was always something to do. Now...I don't know, to be honest I think I'm kind of bored."
"Well, we certainly don't want the world's greatest spy getting bored in the middle of the night in the world's most technologically hyper advanced building."
The smile eroded.
"I meant that as a joke, but now that I think about it, that is kinda good advice in general."
"So, Doc, if you don't mind me asking, shouldn't someone who needs to stay as un-cranky as possible get more sleep?"
His head turned ever so slightly to the wall.
"I learned it's best for me to go to sleep fully exhausted. It helps prevent any...night time incidents."
His eyes seemed to grow heavy, and Natasha could see him leading himself down to a darker place.
"Good point, we'd hate for you to have any 'night time incidents' while you're at a sleepover with your friends." She smirked at him as he scrunched his brow in confusion.
Clarity came to him.
"Oh, grow up, Agent Romanoff!" He grinned at her.
"Natasha," she said, surprised at how quiet she became. "I'm not an agent anymore."
His grin faded and he nodded. "Miss Romanoff, then?"
"Natasha," she insisted.
"Natasha," he capitulated.
His hands fidgeted with a pencil.
"How are you doing?"
"I'm fine," she said automatically.
"Of course you are." She knew he didn't believe her.
She sighed and walked over to one of the lab's many work desks and leaned on it.
"I don't know...I'm working it out."
There was a stretch of silence, and then the Doctor all but leapt out of his chair.
"You know what we need? We need some comfort food, something either sinfully sweet or illegally greasy."
She scrunched her nose at him.
"Is anyone even delivering this late?'
"Hey, we can find out. Jarvis?"
The even, British-synth tones of Tony's omnipresent computer butler answered.
"Yes, Doctor Banner?"
They'd been trekking for several miles, through the forest and now halfway up a mountain. Various things had clung, cut, and bitten into her, but she continued following and the Hulk didn't leave her behind.
"Wait," she huffed as she finally reached her limit on the side of a sharp cliff that overlooked the forest valley, ablaze with the sunset. She was no longer surprised when the Hulk stopped and turned to keep an eye on her. She leaned against a tree and looked out over the landscape.
"Hey, Big Guy," she said, doubting he was listening to her. "Sun's gettin' real low. Don't you think it's time for us to go home and rest?"
The Hulk snorted and plodded off. Natasha sighed and rose to follow when she heard him groan. He collapsed on the ground and his body shook and writhed as he began his transformation back into Bruce Banner.
She quickly tapped her earpiece.
"Clint, it's me. You guys have my location?"
A second's silence.
"Yeah, Nat, we got you. Need us to pick you up?"
"Please and thank you."
"No," she smiled, "I've got company.
Clint gave another exaggerated sigh.
"Nat, we have the weirdest friends."
Natasha watched Doctor Banner, himself once more, gasp on the hard earth, and couldn't help a smile.
"Yeah...we do have the weirdest friends, don't we?"