Written for a prompt over on the Avengers meme. Guys, I think I love Bruce Banner a lot bit oh god
Best read on 3/4 or 1/2 page width and a larger font size, though that may be my terrible eyesight.
He's in the southernmost point of East Kalimantan; just on the border into South Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, when the seventy-year-old rotary phone nailed to the wall of the bar begins to ring.
The barkeep, who'd no doubt bought the phone as a young man, answered it with a cheerful "Halo?" and Bruce took a sip of his drink. "Ya, dia ada disini," the barkeep continued, sparing the doctor a look before returning his attention to the time-worn phone. "Ya. Tunggu, saya akan mendapatkan dia," The old man nodded as he spoke, then turned and offered the phone to the doctor.
"For me?" at the old man's affirmative nod Bruce sat his drink down on the table and crossed the small one-room bar, settling onto a rickety stool at the bar and accepting the old phone from the even older barkeep. He had to lean halfway across the graffiti-laden wood counter to keep the coiled phone cord from stretching too far. For a moment, the doctor wondered who could possibly know that he was in that specific bar, in that specific country, but then he put the receiver to his ear.
"Bruce?" Steve was on the other end of the line, being his courteous self. "How've you been?"
"Fine, just fine. Been doing some basic medicine across Malaysia and Indonesia the past month or so. What's the problem?" Bruce could almost hear the answer- alien invasion, Trickster God incursion, hellish combination of the two-
"I'm actually… I'm not calling for the Other Guy," Steve began. "I was actually wondering if you'd come around for lunch or a cookout some time. Since we're a team, I figured-"
"I'll see what I can do," Bruce promised the man. He had no intention of actually seeing to it, of course, especially since he had a seat on a cargo plane bound for Vietnam reserved for the next day. Steve seemed to realize just what he meant by that, though. It was the same every time, it seemed.
"We'll see you when we see you, then," the super-soldier conceded.
"See you when I see you," Bruce nodded, and handed the phone back to the barkeep. The old man set it back where it belonged on the wall, and the doctor returned to his drink. He left before the phone could ring again.
He was, quite literally, at the top of the world. Seated in a walled courtyard and surrounded by the serenity that only a Buddhist monastery can afford, Bruce meditated peacefully. He'd found his center some three hours previously, and though he could no longer feel his pretzeled legs he was too engrossed in a chemical equation that he was beginning to think was as solvable as the common cold to care. Most monks would spend years of their lives ruminating upon singular philosophies, existential questions and riddles. Bruce Banner spent his precious meditative time puzzling out Gamma-Relative chemistry and the stray bit of physics that flits across his mind.
"Doctor Banner?" Bruce opened one eye, regarding the clean-shaven college kid with the Bronx Italian accent and acolyte's robes in front of him. The kid held a blue and black satellite phone in front of him, offering it to the doctor. It was already connected to a call, and with a near-inaudible sigh he took it and put it to his ear.
"Hey! Finally found you. You would not believe how hard it can be to track you down sometimes-" Bruce held the satellite phone a bit further from his ear, grimacing at the sudden chatter after hours of quiet serenity and math.
"Hello, Tony," the doctor managed to get a greeting in edgewise before the babble started again.
"So anyway, that's out of the way, can you come in? I want your eyes on something I've been working on for a while," Tony continued to gibber on about a cloaking function for his suit that he absolutely had not stolen from SHIELD thank you very much, and would have continued to do so until his formerly-meditative victim tried to get his attention.
"Tony, Tony- do you have any idea where I am?" Bruce asked.
"No idea, but I can get someone to you within a couple hours. You in?" There was a childlike glee in the billionaire's voice, and it was just infectious enough that the doctor gave a small chuckle.
"I'm in a Buddhist temple at the top of a mountain that takes five days to climb, and it's three days from the nearest town. By the time I get to you you'll have gotten bored and done the tests yourself," he replied.
"Yeah. Sounds like fun," Tony sounded as far from convinced as could be humanly possible. "If you're sure I'll leave you there, but you're missing out on lots of fun. I think the girl that brings the coffee still wants to jump you."
"I'm sure," Bruce assured, purposefully ignoring the second part of the statement. "If you still want me to look at it the next time I come around I'll be more than happy."
"Yeah, sure. 'till then." With a click the call disconnected, and the doctor handed the satellite phone back to the young monk. He gave a short bow and retreated back into the interior of the temple to attend to his duties, leaving the doctor to his business. Bruce began settling back into a meditative state, ignoring the ferocious growl that his stomach finally decided to make.
It was exceedingly difficult to focus on chemical equations, however, when the thought of Stark R&D nagged at his consciousness.
In retrospect, Bruce had known that being anywhere near Northeastern Europe was probably a bad idea. He should have picked the itinerary from China to Greenland with the stopover in Canada, not Norway. It was much too late now, though.
"Thor," Bruce nodded a greeting around his coffee cup, trying to take in the surroundings and really only managing to take in the mountain of blond muscle in civilian clothes interrupting his field of vision.
"Are we not cordial? It has been months since last we spoke! Come, doctor, I would hear of your travels!" the Thunder God took the seat across the café table from him, the small metal chair creaking under his colossal frame. He looked excited to see his teammate, though, and so Bruce sighed and took a gulp of his cooling coffee before launching into a vague summation of where he'd been for the past several months.
He'd saved the lives of half a dozen children in Thailand when they'd all come down with something resembling a sleeping sickness. Two village elders in a small Ecuadorian settlement were going to live at least another ten years because of his help. An English kid on vacation in the Caribbean would get to go home to his parents instead of die of accidental poisonous plant consumption. The list went on, and on, and listening one could hardly imagine that one man could make it to so many places in the four months he'd been off the grid.
"You do the work that we cannot, doctor," in a lull in Bruce's storytelling, Thor spoke. "We vanquish the foes that threaten this realm yet we are so high that we are incapable of noticing the people that you so readily assist."
Bruce drowned any argument he would have thought to make with a gulp of now-cold coffee.
"Come! We shall return, then," the Thunder God said with a smile. "We make do without your presence, doctor, and the small angry man with the claws is most formidable an ally indeed, but would that I fight alongside one such as yourself again!"
"No," Bruce pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. "If SHIELD needed me back, I'd be sitting in a lab doing their math for them already. I'm-"
"It is not the SHIELD that wants your return, doctor," Thor stood, and the small chair he'd vacated groaned in relief. "Would but you realize this. However, I know the mind of a man that wishes time to himself, and I will not keep you from it."
The doctor nodded his thanks, still drinking his cold coffee.
"Return, doctor, if only eventually," Thor said as he turned, leaving the small café area behind him. Bruce sighed and put his coffee cup down, pulling off his glasses to properly rub at his temples.
He'd just checked into an utterly tiny hotel in Casablanca, and was ready to drop. Coated in sand and dog tired, he dropped his bag next to the door and nearly fell onto the single bed in the room. He didn't even bother pulling off his shoes before trying to get some much-needed rest.
Unfortunately, the phone on the bedside table had other plans. The outdated handset began to ring, and in his sleep-deprived state Bruce fumbled with picking it up while his face was still pressed into the pillow. He eventually managed the task and brought the handset to his ear, turning his head to be able to talk.
"Doctor Banner, this is Agent Coulson. We'd like you to-" Bruce grumbled unhappily, mostly asleep.
"No," he managed to get out, before making several attempts to hang the handset up and only failing. He eventually managed the task with a loud clatter, and settled in to get some much-needed sleep.
To their credit, he didn't wake up to find a SHIELD agent standing over him.
It's easy to hide in Ho Chi Minh City, especially on the back alleys and dirt roads between building that easily hide apartment doors and basement steps. One of those hidden doors, nestled in an alcove between a bike store and a flower shop, was the one that Bruce was looking for. Behind it and up the stairs it hid was a one-room apartment with a lovely view of the clotheslines that crisscrossed the next street and walls so thin he could hear the man next door practice the Đàn đáy at 3am every day.
The doctor sat his duffel down by the small table that had been shoved into the corner by the landlady, and washed a cup in the sink before pouring himself some coffee from a coffee maker that had probably been made before he was born. It hissed and rattled at him, but he only sighed before turning to face the woman in the room that he had been trying so hard to ignore.
"How many guys do you have surrounding this place?" wearing a red áo dài that matched her hair rather spectacularly, Natasha sat in the only chair in the room.
"None. This isn't business, Bruce," the agent said. Bruce snorted into his coffee cup, amused.
"Yeah right. I'm the last person you'd come to for a nice chat and some coffee," he said it with a tired-looking half smile, like he'd said something funny but he was the only one who really got the joke. "D'you want some, by the way?" he gestured to the rickety coffee pot, and Natasha shook her head.
"We want you to come back, Bruce," she offered. "It's getting harder and harder for SHIELD to keep people off your trail. Your neighbor is a Khurdish spy, you know."
"Too bad, he plays good music," the doctor shrugged. "I'm fine. It takes more than a couple spies and a gun or two to make me go anywhere I don't want to."
"That's the point, the Khurds mobilized an entire defense force to try and get you under their control. They're gunning for you, Bruce, and SHIELD can't keep them off your back much longer," Natasha stood as she spoke, trying to get her point across. "It's for your own-"
"Don't even give me that," Bruce sat his coffee down, staring down the SHIELD agent in his apartment with the kind of conviction he usually reserved for drug runners and human traffickers. "You don't want me. SHIELD has no use for a biochemist, or a Gamma specialist- not right now. You don't care about the Khurds coming after Dr. Bruce Banner. I know what you want. You want the Other Guy, you want him in a cage- where you can see him at all times. You sure as hell don't need me for much else!"
By the time he'd finished, he was yelling and Natasha was slowly reaching for the gun he assumed she had hidden somewhere in her dress. He turned and leaned against the counter, taking deep breath after deep breath.
"That's not- Bruce, that's not true," the agent assured. "We care about you, we don't want you hurt. The whole team does. But we just can't protect you from this distance-"
"Who's going to protect you?" Natasha almost didn't catch the words. "Who's going to protect all of you, when something goes wrong or something happens and you have to put the Other Guy down? You have your cages, your weapons, but they're useless when not a single one of you can bear to fire because I'm a friend! I care about you- all of you! But I could've killed you, Natasha. I'm not letting that happen again. Not to anyone."
"It takes more than two tons of muscle and rage to take us down, you know," Natasha responded. Her hand was firmly on her gun, but she let it fall as she took in the tired sadness that composed the doctor's face. Her words managed to get a small snort of a laugh from him, but by the time he looked up again the Black Widow was gone.
At about 2am on a rainy Tuesday morning, Clint Barton decided that the last piece of celebratory 'we haven't killed each other yet' cake in the mansion's refrigerator simply wasn't going to eat itself. Thusly he took it upon himself to trudge down to the kitchen in his jim-jams, yawning and scratching at the stubble that had grown since the morning before. He pawed at the light switch for a moment in his bleary haze, but when he couldn't find it or make it function he left it be and made his way towards the refrigerator. The interior light blinded him for a moment, but through squinted eyes the archer could see that something was off about its contents.
"Looking for something?" Clint yelped as he whacked his head on the interior of the fridge in surprise, wheeling around to look at his until-then silent and completely unnoticed kitchen companion. Bathed in the yellow light of the open refrigerator, much like the rest of the kitchen, Bruce sat at the kitchen table with a fork and the last piece of cake. His glasses were perched on the tip of his nose, slightly askew, and his hair and clothes were plastered to his skin with slowly-dripping rainwater. He looked like a soaked kitten.
"Scared the shit outta me, doc," Clint said, before turning back to the fridge to resume his search for the last piece of cake. Something in his sleep-addled (and now somewhat sore) brain was nagging at the SHIELD agent, but he couldn't put a finger on it. He moved the orange juice aside to continue his search, and after a moment of no luck he had forgotten why he was holding the carton. Still mostly asleep, he stood up and began drinking from the carton. Clint turned and leaned against the closed freezer door, slowly surveying what parts of the room were illuminated by the fridge light as he approached something vaguely resembling wakefulness.
Mr. Coffee percolating, check.
Trash bin in desperate need of being taken out, check.
Dead plant on the windowsill above the sink that nobody had remembered to water while they'd been off fixing a crisis in Latveria, check.
Bruce sitting at the kitchen table, still looking like he'd just climbed out of a river with the last piece of cake in front of him, check.
Novelty calendar of 40's pinups with Tony's face photoshopped over the girls' faces-
Clint's eyes went wide and he promptly spit out a mouthful of orange juice, doubling over coughing and nearly losing his grip on the carton in the process.
"You alright?" Bruce asked around a mouthful of cake. He looked more bewildered than disgusted at the sudden spit-take. The agent in the Transformers-print pajama bottoms nodded, holding up a hand to ask for a moment. "Did the OJ go bad?"
"When'd you get back?" Now fully awake, Clint put the carton back in the fridge and went looking for the paper towels.
"About ten minutes ago," the doctor supplied. He swiped at a bit of rainwater that had dripped from his hair and was making a beeline for one of his eyes. Clint silently nodded as he cleaned up what mess he could find, and then chucked the towels into the overflowing trash bin.
"You staying long, or-" the archer prompted.
"I think I might, yeah," Bruce nodded, taking another bite of his dwindling amount of cake. He nodded a goodbye to the agent as he said his goodnight and left the kitchen, closing the refrigerator door as he went and plunging the room back into darkness.
Several hours later the rest of the team found the doctor where Clint had left him, face-down and lightly snoring on the kitchen table.