"When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too."
As I walked around the city, I wondered if I did make up Bruce. There was so much destruction here, it was a maze just to get through the streets with all the clean ups and repairs. Maybe I'd hit my head too hard on one of the falling bricks and thought of a wild story.
But the feelings were too real. Sometimes when you wake up you feel like your dream was true, but this felt engrained in me. Like grief about Sean was etched into my unconscious, I felt the pull of Bruce like it was written on my bones.
I could feel Dylan in my head, urging me forward, telling me to not doubt myself.
Plus, my imagination wasn't vivid enough to think of everyone else. Snarky Tony. Devoted Joanna. Collected Natasha. Gentlemanly Steve, muscled Thor or sharp shooting Clint. Even Agent Hallows, with his moments of vulnerability, had become a big part of my life as of late.
And there, between a cracked-glass storefront and a charred deli, with my mind swirling of agents and aliens, I felt a thought hit me.
It had been staring me in the face the whole time, I didn't know whether to feel stupid or elated.
Bruce peered at the homeless man, which wasn't uncommon here, especially since the Loki business. Some of them, he noticed, weren't completely phased by it, but some of them were sporting injuries that they had not checked out. The one in front of him had a particularly nasty one on his face, which was turning the same color as his plaid, tattered shirt.
"You should really go to the hospital. It looks like the cut on your forehead is getting infected," he tried to say calmly with a trusting smile.
The man glared at him.
"Mind your own business, Four Eyes!"
Bruce sighed and rolled his eyes. With that glum note, he started his journey back. He had been looking for Scarlett all day, and alternated between exhaustion and frustration. Agent Hallows had been called back to S.H.I.E.L.D. but promised to check in as soon as possible.
It was much harder without him. In fact, almost impossible. But it made Bruce feel better to be out and looking than to be sitting in his room and staring at the walls.
He was so preoccupied he barely noticed he was back at Stark Tower. He was recognized there now, and he silently thanked Tony for having such a convenient place for him to stay. He was probably overstaying his welcome, actually, but he didn't really care these days.
He rode the elevator up in silence, contemplating his fingernails instead of everything else around him. It was usual to see a lot of people around here since they were fixing things up, but they mostly left him alone.
All, save one.
"Mister Green has returned!"
"Hey Tony," Bruce greeted, managing a crooked smirk. It was the most he could conjure. He felt like his feet would fall off.
"No luck today?" Tony asked, fiddling with his computer and gesturing to a worker next to him. He was almost always doing something these days, but Bruce admired his ability to be in many conversations at once.
"Well I've kind of taken on a pet project. Bringing in strays. It really helps the self-esteem, and gives them a place to stay."
"Oh...great?" Bruce furrowed his eyebrows. That didn't sound like Tony. He thought he was kind of distracted and talking gibberish, so he started moving toward the room he was staying in.
"Yeah, so I've left one in your room."
Bruce paused. He was only a few feet from his doorknob. Tony's voice echoed from where he stood, and he turned and looked at him.
"I hope you're joking."
Tony just grinned and continued in his conversation with the woman beside him. Bruce was too tired to argue. If there was a group of cats in his room, maybe it was a push for him to leave. He didn't really care. Maybe he was at the age to hang around a bunch of cats and wait to die. Who said that was restricted to old ladies?
He braced himself and turned his doorknob. And there was someone on his room, and it was certainly not a cat.
Bruce's temporary room was nicer than my permanent house. I felt jittery all over for some reason, like I was going on a first date, even though we had kind of skipped all the normal pleasantries. For all I knew, he wasn't even going to want a relationship, but I had to try.
"He's been crazier than usual looking for you," Tony had said with a grin. "You have to hide in his room! It will be great to see him so confused."
I wandered around for a while, looking at the art on the walls, and finally the things in Bruce's pile of stuff. Mostly shirts, and a few books, which made me smile. His bed hardly looked slept in.
And then I heard the doorknob. I took a deep breath as I turned around.
I looked up slowly. He looked down at me. I could feel my chest aching and breathing as hard as his.
I don't really remember moving, but suddenly I was only inches away. He smelled like him. I didn't really know what he smelled like until he was in front of me, and then it always hit me and it smelled like comfort and thrill and outdoors and books all at the same time, because he was so many things, and I found myself loving all of them.
I needed to kiss him. I didn't care about what would happen later, at least not now.
I grabbed his shirt and pulled him down, and put my hands on the scruff of his cheeks. He answered with fervor, to my astonishment, his hands on the small of my back, pulling me as close to him as I had ever been. I slid my hands into his hair, then down to his neck, almost convincing myself that he was real. His hands moved up the back of my shirt and I smiled into him, when I heard someone clear their throat. I slowly stopped kissing him, giving him one short peck before turning to the voice. Bruce groaned but I kept as close to him as possible, and he settled for playing with my hair.
"Hey Tony," I said, my mind dazed as my eyes focused. "Thanks for having such an ostentatious building."
"I prefer flashy, Walker. Please don't desecrate it during your reunion."
"I think you've done that enough times, Stark," Bruce called, his eyes not even turning toward him.
I looked back at Bruce, settling my hands around his neck. He smiled. His smiles since S.H.I.E.L.D. had showed up were rare, and usually laced with sarcasm or guilt. But this one was real, and I smiled back before pushing my face into his chest. He kissed the top of my head and I wrapped my arms around him.
"I'm so glad I didn't imagine you," I sighed.
"I don't know what that means," he chuckled. "But me too. I hope your dream guy would be much better than me."
"That is true," I said with a sarcastic grin.
"You know how to make a guy feel good," Bruce said with a grimace.
"Nobody self-deprecates you as much as you do."
"Isn't that part of my charm?" he asked.
"Well I think so. But that's probably because I think so little of myself."
"It's hard to tell if you two are joking," Tony commented, still leaning in the door. "And yes, I am still here, in case you were wondering."
"Well maybe you should leave," Bruce said, extracting a hand to gesture closing the door.
"Your babies will be beautiful geniuses with low self-esteem!" Tony called, backing from the room.
"Shut it Tony!" I called.
"Tell your daughter to call me when she's eighteen!"
Bruce kicked the door shut behind him. I started to laugh, but he was kissing me again, and this time, we were backing toward the bed.
I loved Bruce in his purple shirt, but it turned out I liked him pretty fine without it, too. I smiled in spite of myself, watching the sheet on top of him rise and fall with his breath. He looked peaceful in sleep, his hair puffed up on the pillow, his lines erased.
Sleeping with Bruce was a weird, great experience. I had to keep his emotions somewhat in check or he would start to change, but not too in check that he was too calm. Don't even get me started on what I was feeling. All I knew was that I was happy to be there, in any way, but entangled in Bruce was high on the list.
And then, after it was over, and he finally fell asleep, my worries started to trickle in. Mostly, my worries of what his worries would be.
So I prepared. I got paper and pen, and organized my thoughts, and I had been patiently waiting for him to wake up.
I waited a few more minutes before he started to stir. I sat up, the sheets falling away and leaving my arms exposed. I shivered and pulled it back over. All I had was a T-shirt, my coat long ago lost.
"Morning," Bruce said sleepily, stretching an arm over his head. Unlike me, he had no shirt at all, but I was not one to complain.
He propped himself up on an elbow and looked at me, blinking a few times.
"I have a question for you."
I swallowed. This is what I was prepared for. I reached over him and retrieved my papers from the nightstand.
"I have a few things to say," I said, straightening my spine and taking a breath. "I've gathered a few of the cheesiest speeches I could think of."
"You really took notes?"
"Don't interrupt. From this day, you are not allowed to say you're too damaged or you're a Hulk or you don't deserve me. Because it's bullshit and you're scared. You could've went anywhere. Done anything. And you chose to go a place where you could help people. You're two different people and I don't mean you and 'the other guy.' I mean you, the nice, smart, logical one who makes my chest hurt when he smiles and plays soccer with orphans. And the other you, the stupid, irrational one who feels guilty and pushes people away."
I took a deep breath, again, gathering my courage in the air.
"Life is short and you don't make all the decisions. And if I want to kiss a self-deprecating, cute, bespectacled doctor that can turn into a green beast then I will."
Bruce bit his lip, his eyes wide.
"Is that it?"
"No. I know we haven't actually known each other that long, but we can figure that out later. You may not know my favorite color, or movie, but you know who I am. Ever since I lost Sean I made rules to keep people away...and you are the exception to all of them." I paused, mirroring him and biting my lip. "Okay, I'm done."
"I'm sorry," Bruce said, pushing a piece of hair behind my ear. My skin burned. "To make you think you had to convince me to be in a relationship with you. All I want to do is be with you. Maybe I was being dramatic, but I am dangerous, and you have to understand that you don't want to be responsible for putting the person you love in danger."
My heart did a cartwheel at the word love. It was just a word, and I was an adult, but from Bruce it somehow meant more...it meant a future.
"We're not star-crossed, Bruce. We can make this work. You thought I was obligated to you because I'm an empath, but what if we were just supposed to be together?"
"I do hate the concept of the star-crossed lovers. I mean, Romeo killed Juliet's cousin, and they knew each other for approximately five minutes, I always thought it was stupid—really, this is why I studied science—"
I put a finger to his lips, smiling as his defenses turned into babble.
"I don't want to be a doctor anymore, but this whole situation made me realize I do want to help people. And wherever I go, there will probably be some doctor or scientist jobs, if you're interested."
"Scarlett Walker, would you like to get breakfast with me, and maybe live together after that?"
I laughed, nodding my head.
"I don't know why anybody would want to live with me, but I'm going with it," Bruce said, inching toward me.
"Well, I suspect you're very good at opening jars," I said, tapping my chin in thought.
I leaned forward and kissed him, trying not to smile despite all my muscles crying out in happiness. A few months ago I didn't even want to think about the next day, let alone the future, and now I actually wanted to hurry it along.
Sometimes you have to put aside the self doubt. Sometimes you have to get away from the thing bogging you down.
I might feel more emotions that the average person, but it was better to feel everything than nothing at all. And sometimes, times like this, I was reminded that maybe, even just for a little, things could feel perfect.
Sorry it took so long. Hope you liked the story. Hope you liked my Bruce, and Scarlett. Thank you to anyone who has ever read, and thank you x1000 to those who review! It makes writing a lot better! :)