A Neutral Zone Armed With Mistrust And Cynicism
by Liss Webster
V – Apparently, There Is Such A Thing As Avengers Game Night
Natasha's on her way up to Stark's living room, when the elevator slows. The door pings, and opens to reveal Bruce Banner on the other side.
"Hey," he says.
"Hello," says Natasha, and steps aside in silent invitation. She presses the button for the penthouse again, and the elevator resumes.
"Looking forward to game night?" asks Banner.
"So much," says Natasha.
"It's not so bad," begins Banner, but doesn't get any further, because the elevator jerks and falls a few metres, and goes dark.
"Shit," he says raggedly.
Natasha climbs to her feet, and reaches out tentatively till she feels Banner next to her. "You OK?" she says. All she can hear is the pair of them breathing. "Bruce, are you OK?" she repeats. Her heart's racing, and all Natasha can think about is the fact that she's trapped in a tiny box with a monster. Except…
"Yeah," says Banner. "I'm fine, Natasha, don't worry." She feels him move under her hand, and then he's patting her on the arm. "It's fine."
Her eyes are acclimating to the darkness, and she can see him now, standing beside her, one hand clutching the rail, knuckles showing starkly in the dim light filtering down from the elevator ceiling. His eyes are closed, and his breathing is controlled, but she remembers this from the helicarrier.
"Bruce," she says again, and his eyes snap open, and he looks at her.
"I can't believe Tony Stark built an elevator that would break down," says Banner. "I'm rethinking his claims to genius."
"It's not my fault," Stark shouts down the elevator shaft. "Pepper, this is on you!" They can't hear Pepper's response. Tony shouts again, "It's those cowboys she let in to build the place."
"We'll get you out of there," shouts Steve. "I can climb down!"
"I can fly down," shouts Stark.
Natasha and Bruce are sitting cross-legged on the elevator floor. "We could be here a while," says Bruce.
"I don't know why Stark thought it would be a good idea to have an elevator with a sealed ceiling," says Natasha.
There's a hiss of static on the control panel, and then they can hear Coulson's voice. "Romanoff. Banner. We're working on- yes, there's a radio signal into the elevator, Stark. I thought you designed this? – Listen, you two, we'll get you out of there as soon as possible. You both OK?"
"We're fine," says Bruce, closer to the control panel. "Tell Tony his designs are seriously flawed."
"Will do," says Coulson, and closes the connection. They can hear the roar of outrage from the elevator.
"Tic tac toe?" offers Bruce. Natasha sighs.
There is no such thing as Avengers' game night. There is no such thing as the Avengers team.
The game is taking a back seat. Tony and Bruce are still arguing about the elevator design. (There's a to-scale elevator being built out of drinking straws.) Pepper and Phil are discussing post-alien-invasion insurance premiums in New York and methods SHIELD might employ to better indemnify their frankly staggering operational costs. Thor has finally gotten over his pique at not being allowed anywhere near the electrical equipment during the great elevator rescue mission and is snuggled up with Jane, peppering her with questions about the soccer match that's on, when she's not interrupting Tony and Bruce's argument. Steve and Clint are enthusiastically if inconclusively debating the pros and cons of close combat versus distance. Natasha is sitting back in the corner of one of Tony's ridiculous sofas, her feet in Clint's lap, a drink in her hand, and this is all starting to feel oddly like home.
Bruce looks up from the drinking-straw elevator and catches her eye. Natasha feels her lips quirk up in a smile, and Bruce smiles back.
She thinks he feels like that too.
It's a strange development, but right now, Natasha thinks she's pleased about it.
A/N: I just wanted to thank everyone for their thoughtful comments on this! A note of explanation I should maybe have made at the beginning is that I posted this originally several days ago on AO3, not as a single story, but as five separate stories making up a series. Because you can't put a series together on , I chose to post all five as a chapters of a single story so they would be read together. This may explain inconsistencies in pacing and tone that I guess would seem weird in a normal story, but it probably would have been helpful if I'd mentioned it to begin with!
Also, I agree that it would be interesting to see Natasha dealing with the Hulk as opposed to Bruce. I hope to write a second series like this, exploring their developing relationship (not necessarily a romantic/sexual one, though I thought Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo were a-ma-zing at giving us some tension there!), and I think the Hulk would be a part of that.
Anyway, thank you again for the comments – much appreciated!