Bruce was used to being the observer. Oftentimes he needed to take a step back from the world, because everyone knew the results when he didn't. And through doing so, he'd learnt to see everything with the objective clarity that eluded so many others. When he watched his friends, he learnt more about them than they ever could have, or in some cases would have, told him. A lot of what he learned, he got from the breakfast table.
Even the elusive pair that was Natasha and Clint gave tells. Like the way that Clint liked black cherry preserve on his toast in the mornings, and that Natasha liked that very same preserve dipped in her tea. He learnt that they both read the same Eastern European paper, and that Natasha would always crease the corners of pages that she thought Clint might like. And that Clint always turned to those pages first before reading any other article.
Thor on the other hand was mostly an open book, he liked to talk and he liked to share. But there were some things, Bruce noticed, that Thor kept secret. Like the way he would hesitate before each meal, waiting until at least one other person had started first so that Thor could imitate the way they ate their food. Bruce learnt that Thor never seemed to know whether say a burger was eaten all together or layer by layer; or if soup needed utensils or was sipped like tea. When Bruce had first met Thor, he'd never struck Bruce as the type to care about such things; but as time passed, Thor seemed less and less like a God to Bruce, and more and more like a foreigner frightened to embarrass themselves in a foreign world.
Steve, like Thor, was another outsider, but in a completely different way. If there was a spectrum of outsiders, Steve would land so far on the opposite end that they'd barely be able to see each other for the horizon line. Steve greeted everything new with a hidden air of hostility. Any phrase he didn't recognise, any new gadget that Bruce or Tony might happen to pull out, Steve would look at it with a flash of contempt. In Steve's mind, he wasn't the outsider; it was everything around him that was the alien.
Tony was the most similar to Bruce out of all of them, but even with that and their science oriented friendship, Tony had to be the most difficult to read. He wasn't secretive or private like Clint and Natasha. Nor did he put on a particularly grandiose front to hide his inner fears and doubts like Steve and Thor. Tony was much more complex. Tony was the type to look you directly in the eye and tell you exactly what kind of man he was but in such a way that you could have sworn he was lying. Tony reminded Bruce of a game he used to play when he was a child. Tell me two truths and a lie and guess which the lie is. Tony would talk and talk and talk and sell the world to you with his words, but it seemed impossible to ever tell which words he truly meant because he was fluid; what he might have meant one day, would be irreverent the next.
He had trouble reading Tony, but Bruce noticed that Steve didn't. Despite their initial struggles, Steve seemed to see Tony with an enviable clarity.
The two of them, despite being poles apart, seemed to click in a fantastic way and even as they bickered over their morning coffee, they would sit closer and closer until, when Bruce let his eyes relax, their outlines blurred into one shape like a magic-eye.
Bruce had only tried to study Nick once, briefly, but stopped when he realised Nick was staring right back at him. Nick pointed at his one good eye, then at Bruce "Wind those in." He pointed to his nose. "And keep that out. I'm not your morning entertainment, sunshine." Nick was not a morning person (whether he was an evening person, or any other time of day person was beside the point).
You might think that Bruce was lonely in his pensive little niche of the world, but he wasn't.
He'd just been watching Tony spend an hour convincing Steve that land sharks existed now, only to have Thor kill it by talking about the infamous Landsharken from Asgard, when a fresh mug of coffee was placed in front of him. A suited figure eased themself into the chair beside him clutching their own mug of coffee. Agent Coulson leaned into Bruce's peripheral, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand. "So," he said, voice deep with sleep. "What's new on Avenger watch?"
Bruce smiled wryly and filled him in on the latest. Coulson absorbed it all with his own eyes as he sipped tentatively at his coffee.
"Ten bucks says that Thor has eaten one of those landsharken at some point."
"It's entirely likely," Bruce agreed.
Coulson place his mug on the table and sat back in his chair, lifting his hands up and over his head in a languid stretch that resembled a contented housecat.
"This is nice," he observed, not pointing out what in particular was nice; he didn't need to.
"Yeah," Bruce said after too long of a pause not to have given it some serious thought, because it really had been a long time since he'd been a part of something. For a while he'd convinced himself he didn't miss it. But he had done, and now that he realised it, it was nice not to miss it any more.