My first Bruce and Natasha friendship fic! I usually do Bruce/Tony, but figured I'd try something different. I've used a similar storyline in a few of my other stories-I figured I'd play around with it and see where it'll fit. So if it looks familiar, it is! Hope you enjoy it, and tell me what you think! Thanks!

Warnings: Mentions of child abuse.

Disclaimer: Don't own anything!

Bruce jumped as the glass door to the lab slammed. He looked up from the bright white computer screen, eyes adjusting to the room around him. He blinked once, twice, three times, and cleared his throat. Clint stormed into the lab, pulling Natasha by her arm, a look of both amusement and guilt etched on his face. Natasha, on the other hand, looked pissed. There was a trail of blood that started just below her eye and fell down her face, almost like a tear. She wasn't sad, though. Just pretty damn angry. Clint stopped just before Bruce, nearly handing Natasha over to him.

"—What—?" Bruce asked, looking between them.

"We were sparring—" Barton started, shifting from one foot to the other. Bruce had never seen the man this fidgety before.

"And I was winning," Natasha said, glaring at Barton.

"Doesn't matter—"

"I was winning and he was mad, so—"

"I wasn't mad!"

"So he pulled a cheap shot—"

"It wasn't a cheap shot!"

"And I needed someone to patch me up."

"So I said, 'Let's go see Bruce!' And Natasha said—"

"That Banner deals with physics and science and equations no one besides Stark understands, and nobody else really wants to, and he wouldn't be able to do a thing."

"So we made a bet," Clint finished. He and Natasha glared at one another for half a second. Bruce almost laughed—he expected Clint to stick his tongue out at his partner.

"Sit down, Natasha," Bruce said, smiling slightly. Clint raised his eyebrows, but Natasha only looked angrier.

"You can fix this?"

"I'm good with stitches."

Clint opened his mouth to gloat, but a quick elbow to the ribs from Natasha stopped him.

"I'll meet you downstairs, Cheap Shot," Natasha said, taking a seat at one of the lab stools while Bruce dug through drawers. Clint shot her a look over his shoulder. When Bruce reached Natasha again, he saw a small smile on her face. The assassin quickly got rid of it once she saw Bruce staring at her.



Bruce pressed a cloth to Natasha's cheek, and she sucked in her breath sharply.

"Sorry. When I helped little kids, I usually had them hold my hand. Need to hold my hand, Tasha? It hurts less when you hold my hand." Bruce asked, lifting the cloth slightly to grin at Natasha, knowing she would only swat him away.

"Shut up," She said, pressing the cloth back to her head, but smiled nonetheless. Bruce laughed out loud. Natasha caught a glimpse of him as he shifted in his seat and adjusted the cloth. His dark, exhausted eyes sparkled and wrinkles appeared at the corners. Natasha's eyes moved across his face, watching every part of him light up as he laughed.

"You don't laugh much, do you, Doctor?"

She could tell the question caught Bruce off guard. But as immediately as his smile disappeared, it came back. His wrinkles didn't though, and neither did the sparkle in his eyes. Natasha wondered whether the smile was actually real.

"When you've seen the things I have, it gets harder to laugh."

His answer silenced Natasha. She lowered her eyes while Bruce worked. She had seen—a lot of things. But she thought back to Bruce's comment about kids. How many kids has he watched die? How many parents has he left with sunken hearts and no hope? To try so desperately to fix everyone, only to have them fall apart anyways, must be awful. Natasha's eyes flickered to Bruce. He worked methodically. Every move he made was definite—permanent. She imagined those hands working in India, not only mending but soothing and comforting. She couldn't have asked for a better doctor. No one could, really. His eyes never moved from Natasha—even when Thor walked down the hallway, thunderously yelling for Tony to give him his picture of Jane back. Not even when Tony zipped by the lab, pausing only for a moment to bang on the glass to wave at Bruce. No, Bruce gave himself completely to fixing Natasha.

"How come you know how to do this?"


"When did you first learn?" Natasha asked, watching Bruce closely once again.

"Such a long time ago. I can't remember, really."

Natasha tilted her head slightly, narrowing her eyes at Bruce. It was her job to notice the details. An eye twitching. Tight lips. Anything.

"You've only been in India for a few years."

"Well, maybe I didn't learn when I was in India."

"So when did you learn?" Natasha asked with cool confidence. She raised her eyebrows when Bruce looked at her to let him know that he wasn't going to dance around this question. Bruce Banner had done a lot of dancing in his life, but now was not the time. The two friends looked at one another for a long time, a silent battle raging on between them. It was Bruce who broke.

"I learned when I was eight."

Natasha let out a breath she was holding, as if she was extracting information from a hostile. Instead of her usual feeling of pride and accomplishment, Natasha was only filled with more questions. As Bruce finished up and stood from his seat, Natasha shook her head.

"Hold on a second, Doc. Eight-years-old, you're saying."

"Yep." He tried to wave it off, but his voice shook. Once again, no one but Natasha would notice it.


"Why what?" Bruce asked, crossing his arms and turning to face Natasha. He leaned against one of the lab tables, eyebrows creased, as if daring her to ask him more. Natasha didn't let her fear of the answer stop her.

"Why did you learn so young?" She asked. Bruce laughed slightly and looked around the room, as if searching for an escape. He knew just as well as Natasha that there wouldn't be one. Just as he had earlier, Bruce caved.

"I got hurt and had to fix myself up. Remember—remember how I once said that my dad wasn't the most compassionate guy in the world?" Bruce asked. Natasha did remember, but barely. The team had been eating breakfast—Clint perched on the counter, drinking coffee with a scowl (morning wasn't his best time). Thor ate a full breakfast of sausage, cereal, pancakes, and waffles while Bruce poked at his Apple Jacks. Natasha read the paper as Tony stormed in, complaining about Pepper's parents coming to visit. It wasn't long before the team was trading stories of their own parents. At least, those on the team who had parents. And then Bruce said it—a statement no one would think twice about, a moment the others wrote off.

"You don't have to worry about seeing my dad here. He's not the nicest guy, and I definitely don't think he'd like to see me here."

And the team moved on, talking and laughing and complaining and remembering. Except for Bruce, who excused himself from the table quietly and snuck upstairs—not before, though, Natasha could notice a brush of his hand on his lower back, near his side. A thoughtful, deliberate placement of the hand that probably told more than anything he had ever said. And then, just like that, Bruce tucked his shirt into his belt, even though it already was.

Natasha couldn't believe she didn't remember that until now.

"He used to abuse me and my mom," Bruce continued, looking down at his hands. He picked at the bottom of his T-shirt, tugging on a loose string. "I was pretty fast when I was little—I could run, I could hide in places he couldn't see, stuff like that. But when I got a little older, I realized I shouldn't be protecting myself—I should be protecting my mom."

"Bruce," Natasha whispered, looking down at her own hands. She could see it coming.

"He came at us one day with a knife—I don't know exactly how it happened, but I got cut and I was bleeding really badly. I don't even know if he meant to do it—I just thought he was threatening us. I didn't go to the hospital because I didn't want to tell them what happened. So I fixed it." A pause, in which Bruce's breath hitched. "I fixed it." Bruce repeated, lost in his own world. He wasn't looking at the floor, Natasha, his fraying shirt, or anything at all. His eyes were distant, his voice faraway.

"Where'd he get you?" Natasha asked, knowing the answer. Bruce jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, indicating his back.

"I did a pretty good job," Bruce said suddenly, his eyes meeting Natasha's. "Stitching it up. Want to see?"

Natasha opened and closed her mouth. She knew this stuff. She knew what it was like to be punched, cut, thrown to the ground. She had it done to herself and she'd seen it done to Clint, but something about this felt very, very wrong. Something about seeing Bruce's messy waves and kind wrinkles at his eyes and soft, methodical hands made Natasha's stomach clench. But there was something about the way Bruce had asked—want to see?—that filled Natasha with pity instead of fear. As though these stitches were the only thing Bruce was proud of. And because of this, Natasha nodded and stood from her seat.

Bruce turned and lifted up his shirt, showing Natasha a long, spindly scar that started well beneath his shoulder blade and disappeared into his jeans. It was dark and red, but had faded away to a thin line.

"Bruce," Natasha whispered again, stretching out her hand to trace the scar. She stopped short, suddenly afraid of what it would feel like. Before she could make up her mind, Bruce had tugged his shirt down and turned to face her.

"Pretty good, huh?" Bruce asked quietly, his eyes downcast. Natasha took another step closer.

"You know it wasn't your fault, right?"

Bruce nodded, but didn't say anything. He made a noise that caught in his throat, leading Natasha to believe he was holding back tears. Natasha took a deep breath of her own. She didn't handle stuff like this. Ever. She didn't want to screw it up any more than it already was.

"What do you want to say to me?" Natasha asked so softly, she worried if Bruce had heard her. She lifted a hand and placed it on Bruce's cheek, feeling the prickle of scruff and the quiver of his chin.

"N—nothing. I'm okay, it just—hurts sometimes," Bruce said, and scoffed under his breath. "That sounds stupid, doesn't it?" He asked quietly, not daring to look at Natasha. Natasha smiled and took her hand away from Bruce's cheek, slipping it into Bruce's hand and intertwining their fingers.

"It doesn't hurt so much when you hold my hand," She said, ducking her head to meet Bruce's eyes. And slowly, the wrinkles returned. His eyes glistened again, and his thin mouth carved into a smile. She let out a laugh, and then he did, and no matter how soft and quiet it was, his smile was real this time.

It didn't hurt as much.