He was getting very tired of the government. All he had wanted to do was retire quietly, keep himself from hurting more people. Help who he could, in places where the monsters under their beds didn't have green skin.
He'd done well enough, knowing what he did about medicine. Enough to be of service to help, when no real doctors were available.
He'd thought that they had lost him, or he them, and he could go on without notice if he stayed quiet.
The red-haired woman in front of him proved him wrong.
"I'm a representative of SHIELD." Of course she was. At least she wasn't there to kill him. He didn't want to kill everyone in the village when the Other Guy decided to come out.
She's talking about some potential threat, some power source that could destroy the world that he needs to help locate. They want him, not the Other Guy, to come to their base and locate a glowing blue cube.
"Stop lying to me!" It's mean, and he apologized, but it does explain. She is a natural liar, someone he doesn't trust. He doesn't want to go with her, or the dozen or so men he knows now are waiting outside, guns at the ready for him. He wants to stay, screw their Tessaract or whatever it is, he just wants to be left alone.
He followed her and the soldiers out of the hut instead, hoping she hadn't lied, this Natasha Romanov, and that he'd be home free after he found their Cube.
The Carrier is a hive of activity, which isn't unusual. He avoided touching anything, tried to avoid the people as well. It's an unconscious reaction to military; they cause him undue stress, after all.
He can see Agent Romanov, talking to someone that, until a few hours ago, he'd thought had died in the Artic. Granted, most people thought that.
"Dr. Banner. I heard you can find this thing."
"Is that all you heard?" He can't help it, pointing to the elephant in the room. It's huge, green, and always watching him. He likes to see people's reactions, likes knowing what they're going to do.
"Only word I care about." That's… not what he was expecting. Captain America, the man he'd been trying to copy, didn't care? He would've thought that anger would be his first reaction.
But he wouldn't pretend to understand people.
The lab they gave him is nice. State of the art, really, and he knows, just knows, that this wasn't made by SHIELD. There's an… elegance to the programs, the equipment and interfaces, that screams someone who's entire life is simply creating computers. They're practically art, and he almost regrets having to run after this. He misses his labs, his research and comfort.
He misses Betty, and people who knew him and weren't scared off by it. He can see the fear in their faces. It grates on him, and he stays away from them all, working in the lab.
He watched as Loki walked past, looking smug despite the cuffs, and catches his eye. Immediately, the world becomes blue, scared and angry.
He felt lost, confused, like the entire world he knew is slowly disintegrating before his eyes and it is somehow all his fault and there are bodies, frozen, bloody, crushed and he can't thinkhecan'tthinkhecan't-
And it's gone, as soon as it came. Loki looked away, smirk still in place, but his eyes look troubled.
He rubbed his temples, and wished that there was no meeting about this new development. As interesting as it will be to examine the scepter, he doesn't want to leave the comfort of the whirring machines and lack of people.
An escort to the bridge entered the room, looking nervous, and gestured out the door without speaking.
"You can smell the crazy on him." The comment pops out of his mouth, unbidden, and he kind of regrets it, but thankfully Thor, the guy's brother, becomes distracted by the death count. Seriously, though, Thor? When had folktales and legends started coming to life?
… Likely when Captain America was thawed out and discovered to be breathing.
He'd been explaining what Loki was getting the Iridium for, and what he needed to track down the Tessaract, when another voice chimed in.
He recognized it, vaguely, from TV. But it was one thing to hear Tony Stark, CEO and R&D Wonder of Stark Industries, and quite another to have him walk into the room, nonchalantly pat Thor on the shoulder and walk forward to the deck that oversees the rest of the bridge.
"That man in playing Galaga! Thought we wouldn't notice. But we did." He's smiling, just a bit, looking down and watching from the corner of his eye. This is a serious situation, he shouldn't find things funny, but it was refreshing, somebody else who wasn't military.
Then, he'd started talking about the Tessaract, and the portal, and he was blown away by the fact that Stark, apparently, wasn't just the face of innovation and Starktech, he was its actual creator. The face he'd seen on TV, even in conferences and in reference to the many things SI came out with, wasn't clicking with the man in front of him, crowing that he'd found someone who speaks English.
"And I'm a real big fan of the way you turn into a giant green rage-monster." Wait, what?
"Thanks." He responded automatically, staring. Out of everyone he'd met, every person he'd interacted with since the accident, this was the man who decided to look and see the Other Guy? The one thing nobody wanted to talk about, that elephant in the room, and this guy, Tony Stark, Iron Man, was the one who decides 'aw, fuck it, let's talk about what everybody else is avoiding'?
He found himself looking forward to the return to the lab, and not for the reasons he'd had when he left.
Tony, as he'd insisted from the moment they'd entered the lab, had apparently created the computers within. Of course.
He managed to hold back from worshipping at the guys feet, barely, and instead just allowed a reverent tone to slip out as he spoke of the ease. Tony, surprisingly, doesn't ask him what he'd been doing in India, or anything too personal. He'd been expecting this man to try and break into all his boundaries.
Instead, he asked about his work before, what he had missed, girlfriends, in between writing a program one-handed and random comments to what appeared to be a Blue Tooth in his ear.
It was apparently linked to an AI he'd created. He hadn't said what said AI, JARVIS, was doing, but Bruce had his suspicions.
Tony didn't trust SHIELD either.
What was odd was that he'd brought food. No, scratch that, it was that he was sharing said food. Blueberries, just holding out a plastic bag of them like they'd known each other for years, like they were two kids eating candy on the sidewalk, sharing because they could, because they were simply enjoying being there. He'd lost track of that metaphor partially, but the point stood.
Hulk didn't know why this one didn't smell of fear. They all did. Fear. Pain. Anger. Hulk didn't like that Light Man didn't. Confusing. Confusing things made Hulk angry. Angry broke things. That caused Fear. Hulk just wanted pain to stop. Humans hurt Hulk. Hulk wanted to be away from them all.
Maybe not this one, the one who gave Other Him small berries and grinned. Light Man smelled of sadness and hope. Maybe Hulk would stay around, if Light Man was there.
Captain America, Steve Rogers, walked into the lab, probably hoping for information on how the search was going. Unfortunately, he got sidetracked at seeing Tony, in his first 'test' of the Other Guy, jab him with… something. Bruce was fairly sure that he'd only done it when he saw Rogers walking their way, through the glass walls, but had no idea why that would be.
I wouldn't have come aboard if I wasn't up to… pointy things." He reassured him, as he watched Tony prowl and grin at his statement. He had expected to be poked and prodded, by SHIELD or some medical branch of it, to determine his limits or see the damage the Other Guy had done. Nothing so far, but they were having a crisis.
Tony was provoking Rogers, that was the only reason Bruce could find for his behavior. It was like a little boy dipping his crushes pigtails in the inkwell, or something to that extent. He'd even checked him out, a few times now, as he'd walked around. And he could understand, the guy was attractive (if you were into that), but why? What was fighting going to help?
Rogers rounded on him, demanding he tell what he thought of Fury lying, or hiding something. He resisted the urge to snort, even as he pointed out the 'bright light for all of humanity to share' comment. Rogers had to have read his file; of course he would suspect Fury of something.
He just wanted to avoid thinking about it, and hoped it wasn't something that he would regret not pursuing later. Tony had other ideas; JARVIS had been spying on SHIELD files after all.
Rogers left, angry and… disappointed? Maybe he'd been expecting more order-following, less questioning, from them when the world was depending on them.
"That's the guy my father never shut up about?" Bruce looked back up from the screen, to see Tony looking out the door that Rogers had just walked out of. That said a lot more than anything he said afterwards, and to be honest Bruce hadn't heard the words anyway. He'd just seen his reflection. The Hulk stared back, watching not him, but Tony, pacing up and down the floor.
Tony. Other Him said Light Man was Tony. Hulk liked Tony. Tony even poked Other Him with a something, and wasn't afraid Hulk would show up. Tony seemed funny.
Blond Man didn't smell afraid. He didn't like Tony playing with Hulk.
Other Him looked at Hulk in the glass, but Hulk watched Tony. Hulk wanted to see if Tony was afraid of Hulk as himself.
Hulk didn't want Tony to be scared. Hulk didn't like scaring. Hulk didn't like hurting either, though. People liked hurting Hulk. Pain made Hulk angry.
"You're saying that the H- The Other Guy saved my life? For what?"
"I guess we'll find out." Tony rubbed the light under his shirt. He was wearing several, Bruce could see. To dim the light? It wasn't particularly cold in the Helicarrier. A terrible privilege was an interesting way of referring to something that, from what he could discern from the report (unclear and looked to be edited), had nearly killed him several different ways.
If the Other Guy was a terrible privilege, was he wasting it in remote villages around the world? Or was the patience that came with it what was more helpful to those people he had gone to save?
He was yelling, he could tell, but all he could feel was the roaring in his ears that usually came with the Other Guy forcing his way through to the surface, as a defense or attack, he never knew. He was angry, at Romanov for lying through her teeth, at Fury for his bombs, at Loki for letting them near that staff, what is it doing, I want to killkillkill-
The computer goes off. He comes back to himself, set the sceptar down, walked to the display.
"Oh my God."
The whole world goes red, loud, and then green, and nothing.
Red Hair stared at Hulk, and Hulk was ANGRY. Red Hair was lying, they all lied, and Hulk hurt. Hurt from the fall, the fight. Hulk didn't hit Red Hair, when the pain faded. Red Hair looked scared. It was the first time Red Hair looked scared.
Pain lanced his side. Hulk roared. A new man, cape and hammer, stood there. Cape Man tried to talk to Hulk, tell Hulk they were not-enemies. Cape Man had hit Hulk. Hulk didn't trust Cape Man. Hulk hit back.
Cape Man was strong. Hulk couldn't lift Cape Man's hammer, punched Cape Man again.
Gunfire lanced his skin. Hulk growled, turned, leapt onto the plane. Hulk ripped the gunman out, tossed him in the air. Hulk crashed into a building, far below. The birds flew away. Hulk didn't want to scare anybody. Hulk let go.
If he let the Hulk take over, let go of his control, he remained somewhat conscious. He couldn't directly take over his body, but he could see, remember, try and talk to the Hulk. Who wouldn't always be open to reason, but it was all he could do.
With whatever had happened on the Helicarrier, he had no memory. No, that was a lie. He remembered seeing Natasha, collapsed on the ground, terrified, trying to reassure him and keep him calm. He remembered seeing her, as both Bruce and the Hulk, and stopping, before it went blank. He could only guess someone had distracted him.
There was a man above him, tossed clothes down as he said, casually,
"Son, you've got a condition." And he laughed, because what else could he do? Got dressed, thanked the man, asked if he knew the fastest way to New York.
"Heard it's a right mess at the moment. You sure you want to go that way?" Bruce nodded, felt like it was the first time in a long time he wasn't running away.
"Yeah. Got some friends there, and as you said, I have a condition that'll help." The man had a motor scooter, or whatever they were called. Bruce climbed on, took the helmet with a small chuckle, and thanked the man again.
"Good luck. I see you on TV, I'll be rooting for ya."
"Well, this looks terrible." He walked up to the group, eyeing the new man. He carried a bow, and looked like he'd seen better weeks. They all carried an air of… well, determination and fear, which he supposed made sense. He just felt… calm, like he fit into his skin again. It wasn't a feeling he'd had in a long time.
Steve was talking on his com, telling Tony he'd been right. Bruce could have told him that; Tony was remarkably correct, from what he'd seen of the man. Strange, inconsiderate and rude at times, but often on or close to the mark.
"I've seen worse." Natasha was watching him closely. He had no idea what she was trying to find.
"I'm sorry." He knew, as did she, that he wasn't just referring to what she must have gone through to say that."
"No, we could use worse." Her small smile said, he hoped, that he was forgiven. It would take a while for him to believe it.
"Now would be a good time to get angry." He grinned at Steve, who somehow managed not to look ridiculous in that old styled suit of his (which shouldn't even be possible, seriously), and began walking towards the whale-like monster Tony was leading their way.
"That's my secret, Cap. I'm always angry."
The battle field blurred into the Hulk's vision, but for once he didn't feel out of control.
There was a flying fish. Hulk hit it, and it collapsed, falling down from the sky. Blond Man, Captain, pointed to people, talking. Tony was red and gold, shiny metal instead of skin. Hulk didn't understand. Bruce said Red Man was Tony, under metal. Safety. Armor. Hulk was Other Him's Armor, sometimes. Captain looked at Hulk.
"Hulk? Smash." He grinned.
Hulk found Horn Man. Horn Man yelled, said things that Hulk didn't understand. Hulk knew that Horn Man caused the bad things. Hulk smashed Horn Man first.
Hulk hit Cape Man, in the fight. Hulk knew why Cape Man had hit Hulk. Hulk was still angry. Hulk decided that would make them even. Hulk didn't want to not like Cape Man. Cape Man liked to smash.
Other Him said Cape Man was Thor. Hulk might like Thor.
He could see, and could understand, when Tony went for that missile and flew straight into the portal. The Hulk was confused, but knew it was a man they both liked, going a way he wouldn't likely come back from.
They were all frozen, watching him go up, up and gone. The creatures, all of them, fell, linked somehow to their original home, whatever it was that was now obliterated by the nuke.
A shape fell from the sky, and he cheered, before realizing that it wasn't stopping, not looping cheerfully like he'd expect, not moving, ohmygod-
The Hulk thought faster than him for once, didn't stop before leaping and catching the small shape of red and gold plummeting from the sky.
He held him close, collapsing onto the ground in a heap. Steve ripped the faceplate off (and wouldn't Tony be pissed, he loved those suits, and this one was new), and Tony wasn't breathing.
The light was out. The arc reactor wasn't on, wasn't stopping the shrapnel from entering his heart which wasn't beating.
He roared, anger and frustration and fear pouring out of his mouth. Tony jolted, reactor whirring to life in a flash, gasping.
Bruce couldn't help the thought, 'good job, Hulk. You did it.'
He certainly wasn't expecting the response.
'We. Bruce and Hulk. Team.'
Tony was falling. Hulk jumped, caught Tony. Tony could fly, had flown in the battle. Tony was hurt, if Tony stopped falling.
Captain pulled off Tony's gold face. Tony's normal face was closed. Tony was not breathing. Tony's light was off. It should not be off, Bruce said. Bruce said it kept Tony alive.
Hulk was scared. Hulk did not want Tony hurt. If Tony was hurt, he could be alone again. Hulk liked Tony, wanted to see if he was afraid of Hulk as Hulk.
Hulk roared, loud with grief and anger.
Tony's eyes opened, his Light turning on. Hulk had saved Tony?
Bruce said yes. Bruce said Hulk saved Tony, told Hulk good job.
'We. Bruce and Hulk. Team.' They were team. Bruce and Hulk could never be different, so they should be team.
If they were a team, Tony would stay. Thor might. Captain and Red Hair and Arrow Man could stay. Team meant safety, and nobody afraid of Hulk.
He rides with Tony to the seeing-off. It made sense, he was living at the Tower. Officially, to help with renovations, before he left again. The reality was more complicated.
Tony wanted to make floors for all of them, was working on the plans now. He had only told Bruce and Pepper, thus far.
"I wanted you to know, before you leave again. Even if you want to run off, leave the country before Fury tries to hold you, and I will totally help if he does, but I wanted you to know you had somewhere you could go, no matter what. Doors always open." He hadn't looked up from the repairs he was doing on the suit.
"You got a bed I can borrow in the meantime?" Tony had looked up, shocked and pleased.
"What? Yeah, I have a bed. I have so many beds I could house all of SHIELD. Don't tell Fury, he'd actually try, and I do not need that much oppressed humor in this Tower, nope." His face was grateful. Tony didn't want to be alone.
They watched as Loki was taken away, said their goodbyes to each other. He waited by the car as Tony walked to the new guy, now known as Clint Barton, or Hawkeye. Tony said something quickly, quietly, and handed him a small file, before walking back to the car.
"What was that?" Tony grinned, starting the engine. From the mirror, Bruce could see Barton's face look raw, shocked, and hopeful, all at once.
"The reports of certain Agents deaths have been greatly exaggerated. I gave him proof, looked like he needed it." Bruce nodded, and settled in as Tony talked of the plans for the Tower, rooms that he wasn't sure would ever be filled, but would be created anyway, as carefully as the computers in the Helicarrier.
He felt peaceful, more so than he had in a long time. The Hulk, somewhere in his mind, quietly agreed.