The physicist moves to sort his small bag of belongings into two piles. His hands find his newly acquired metal pistol, tossing it to the side in his 'keep' section.
With a heavy exhale, his frustration grows, tucking any and all clothing into the bag with an eye roll. He replaces his jacket and loads the pistol with his newly enhanced weapon.
Banner checks the clock and moves to exit the space. With the small bag over his shoulder he locks the door behind him and tucks the key underneath the mat with a final payment- plus a little extra for the kind landlord. It is not like he would need cash anymore.
Spotting a dumpster he tosses his belongings without a second thought. Traveling lightly he walks the frozen city street with his hands shoved deep into his pockets. He has a location in mind, an even more isolated party of the city.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Natasha is regretting allowing Stark to come along when he offers her a shot of scotch for the fourth time.
She's still frustrated by his delay in bidding Pepper goodbye and then by his insistence on his own aircraft. In Natasha's mind, a SHIELD craft would've been faster.
She sits near the window, arms crossed as they reach the end of their trip. A heavy sigh merits a fifth offer of scotch. She glares in Tony's direction;
"Ask me again and I will shatter the glass and stab your reactor with its pieces."
Natasha turns her head and immediately looks back outside her window. Her jacket tugs gently as she moves, uninterested in reading or moving from her current spot;
"How much longer."
"About an hour."
She doesn't respond. Tony sips his drink, cautiously glancing over the distraught assassin. He purses his lips;
"That was a long flight...what do you think he's up to?"
She hugs her arms a little tighter, "When was the last time you heard from him again?"
Tony shrugs, "Three days. Said he was going off the radar and that he had two more ideas for memory recollection. Said to make sure you were okay."
Natasha feels her gut twist over the 'off the radar'...how much more solitude could he get?
Her eyes lower. She subtly lifts her fingers to her eyelid, trying to hide a slipped tear from her companion. She plays it off as an eyelash as she refocuses back out the window;
"When we get there, um. I have connections so let me do the talking."
The engineer twists his jaw over her expression;
"I really can't believe we just flew five thousand miles across the world- God dammit Red. You love the guy, don't you."
She refuses to answer when she briefly makes eye contact, biting at her inner cheek.
Natasha can calculate the exact distance from where they are landing to her desired location. She knows which paths to search and which streets to address first. In her head she maps the distance between the city and the mountains, sketching the way in her head.
Tony offers her a friendly smile, "You'll find him for us. You know what you're doing."
Natasha swallows hard and gives her eye another rub. Finding him wasn't her concern; She knows enough about how his mind works to pin his location. Her worry lies in his status, knowing the Vibranium pills and compounds were missing from the lab.
"When we land, you should check in for us. I'll start my search. Our landlady's name is Olga-."
"Leaving me at the hotel? Really?"
She remains stern in her focus. Her mind drifts toward the worst, uninterested in having her teammate find his best friend lifeless.
"Can you just listen to me?"
Stark just nods and takes another sip of his drink, "Okay. But if you come back without him you better believe I'll have you shot."
Her eyelids shut as she presses her head back against her seat and numbs her senses;
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Bruce circles the bridge, careful to avoid any security or anyone else for that matters. His hand is within his pocket as he holds the weapon, cold breeze tossing through his thick curls. He calculates the jump into the icy water below should his plan go awry. At least the overload of vibranium would kick in and if it did nothing else, at least it would shut the beast down for a while.
He looks up toward the dark vacant sky with his thoughts on Betty. There is no longer a comfort in believing she's in a better place with his mother, peacefully raising their unborn children.
He reaches an icy hand toward his face when his thoughts shift to Natasha. When his eyes close, he can see her sweet smile, her bright red hair tossing in the breeze or the warmth of her kisses and soft words. His impending tears verifying that lump in his throat. He'd hurt to many people to be given that 'second chance'.
Bruce feels his hands trembling when his knees give out. He's cold and alone. And his mind rightfully so. Even the Hulk seems quiet in his headspace.
Banner's mouth opens for a scream he had held in for so long, knowing he couldn't release anything more than a whisper if he didn't want to draw attention.
His pulse begins to race, eyes closing over a ghostly echo of his father, Ross and countless others calling him 'useless', a 'monster, a 'mutant'.
His trembling makes it all practically impossible to aim where he wants, eventually resolving to just point it for the temples. Bruce knows enough about the human body to know what would kill him fast. In the mouth would've been ideal, but he'd tried that one before.
He snickers coldly. As he whispers to himself, a tear slips from the corner of his dark brown eyes, "Come on Banner! You can even shoot straight!"
It is what he wants. He wants to go. He'd be happier knowing he could finally enjoy sleep; No more nightmares. No one waking him up. No more agony, tears- no more innocent screams echoing in his ears. No more image of those he loves bleeding out. He can finally put an end to the terrors and ensure no one else is ever hurt again.
Bruce shut his eyes. Right forefinger on the trigger. He couldn't miss. He couldn't afford to. His mind is somewhere between Natasha and feelings of failure.
Bruce started his traditional countdown starting at 8. A memory for every number as he embraces his deep shuddering breaths. He'd made his peace with Tony Stark, perhaps the most kind hearted friend he'd made in a while. A message to Clint the night prior to ensure Natasha received the care she needed.
But Natasha... He finds peace in remembering her hazel-green eyes, empathetic and gentle. He scoffs as the tears stream down his cheek, she'd never be hurt again...
"You pull that trigger and I pull mine!"...And speak of the Angel.
He can hear a clicking behind him, in too deep of a headspace to consider her presence real. If he weren't imagining he's pretty sure there is another pistol at the ready behind him. He keeps his position, seated in his heels;
"You wouldn't dare."
Her voice cracks in the cold, verifying she is in fact behind him on that icy bridge in a desolate Russian city;
"It's aimed at my temple Bruce. And I will shoot."
His heart drops over her arrival, keeping the barrel at his temple. He's afraid of the emotion, an emotion he's silenced and suppressed;
"I was afraid of this. It was a really long flight to not even get a 'goodbye'."
Tears muffle his voice, the pistol shaking in his trembling aim, "You shouldn't be here."
She stays firm, "I'm not going anywhere unless it's with you; you shoot I shoot."
Bruce keeps his head low and that same stubborn aim, "Why?"
Natasha keeps that metal against her skull, "Because you're worth it. Because you matter to me. And I didn't fly five thousand miles to find my best friend out here ready to give up."
His body aches, slowly lowering the pistol. He drops it into the light snow and covers his mouth to muffle his breaths. Immediately she throws her own onto the ground and without a word wraps her arms around his back.
Banner's anger is gone the moment he feels her touch. He needs her warm embrace, gentle words, and sweet voice. She can feel him break down and give into a few more tears. Her heart aches over seeing him this broken, hugging him a little tighter;
"I'm here for you Bruce, you're not alone."
Natasha rubs one hand over his back and up to his shoulder. She tilts her head empathetically waiting as she lightly brushes the side of his head. Running her hand over his curls is just as satisfying as she thought it would be;
"What is it going to take for you to stop blaming yourself for everything that's wrong in the world."
He turns slowly to face her, reaching for her elbow. He gives her a quick glance;
"Knowing you're okay."
Natasha stays at his side, listening to his shaky breaths. She shares a smile over his immediate concern for her;
"I'm okay. And I remember,' she sighs with a nervous laugh, 'Everything."
"I'm sorry Natasha."
She lifts a shoulder, "For making me fly across the world to come after you?"
"For. That too. I guess."
Natasha reaches to encase his cold hands with hers. She searches for his focus with her own;
"I know you're hurting. I know there are things that I can't fix and there are things that we can't change. But I am here for you. And I want to help you if you'll let me. Not for sympathy, or exploitation- But just because I...honestly and sincerely want your company. You look for the good in everyone and. You inspire me to want to be better.
He looks up when she speaks, sensing the purity in her words and in her tone;
"Natasha I- I love-."
She wraps a hand behind his head and pulls him close enough to latch her cold lips onto his. He inhales and returns her affection, his hands tenderly supporting her neck.
Natasha slips her hands over his covered chest while he presses his forehead against hers. Her eyes close and she searches for his eyes again,
"Bruce? Can I have that weapon?"
He nods and reaches to take up the pistol and hand it over;
"Do I have a choice."
She quickly takes the weapon and unloads the pistols into her open palm. She narrows her focus;
"Among other things."
Natasha rolls the bullet in her palm with a small toss in the air;
"I think…you know what."
He watches her arm pull back and her eyes calculate the bridge. She easily throws the item up over the bridge and into the water. Bruce gives her a glare;
"Nice. Now you're polluting."
She shrugs, "It's one bullet, relax...we're not gonna go there."
He glances over his shoulder and moves to stand, "We should get you indoors before you freeze."
"I'm Russian, Vrach Banner."
Bruce extends a hand to help her up, "Yeah well. I am not."
She takes his hand and allows him to help even if she doesn't need it;
"Where's your place?"
He shoves his hands into his pockets and lets her take his arm;
"I turned in the key."
She nods, trying to remain positive, "Of course you did. We have a place to stay, she's an old friend of mine...I'm assuming you ditched all your possessions as well? Good thing Tony came along, I know you fit in his clothes."
He shrugs, "Eh. And what do you mean Tony came?"
"He insisted. It was a long flight."
"Does he know?"
"About your tendencies?,' she whispers sarcastically, 'No. See unlike you, I can keep a secret."
Bruce can't wrap his mind around her caring so much, "Why'd you do it? Fly all the way out here…"
She just smiles, "You would've done the same."
They walk silently the rest of the way as Romanoff leads. An exhausted Stark is almost aggressive with his embrace and retort, hugging his friend a little tighter for each time he squirms to pull away. Banner eventually caves, tears in his eyes over Tony's words of him being a 'true friend' and 'missed.'
Natasha invites herself to the kitchen space to boil some tea, comfortable around her friend who seems to vanish as quickly as she entered.
Tony retreats to his pull out first, exhausted from the trip while Natasha and Bruce linger by the fire in the guest room.
She offers him a warm mug, wrapped in his jacket she steals brazenly. Banner hugs his knees, hands warmed by the mug as they wait in the silence. Natasha lays her head over his shoulder when she whispers;
"I missed you. Even before my memories came back, I felt your absence."
His head rests over hers, safe and comfortable enough in her presence to do so;
"What triggered it? Your memory returning…?"
Natasha smirks, "The studio space. I saw the baby grand and the Callas. It all came rushing back like a tidal wave."
He raises his eyebrow, "Huh."
"What is it?"
He shakes his head, "I just sent over 60 ideas to Clint and Tony...never thought of the studio."
"I guess it's where I felt you the most. Some of my favorite memories of the year."
Bruce sits up straighter, moving his mug to the nearby table. He turns to face her;
"Natasha? I screwed up with Aldon. I never should've let him even get near you- or Clint-."
"If you apologize again…"
"No, look, what I'm saying is...you're important to me. I can't live with myself if I ever let anything happen to...you because…"
Her eyes widen, "Yes?"
He sighs, "Because you ''inspire me' to want to be better."
She swings her side into his to elicit a smile. Her hands pull his jacket closer over her shoulders;
"We should get some sleep."
He lingers on the floor when she stands. Natasha glances over her shoulder as she turns down the covers, "You comin? You're not sleeping on the floor."
Bruce tilts his head and lifts a shoulder. He stands and moves to settle on the opposite end, grateful to be in a soft and warm bed as his head hits the pillow. He feels safe beside her;
"I'm restless- fair warning."
She scoffs and shrugs off his jacket, "And I scream. Don't take offense if I kick you off, it's involuntary."
He laughs turning to face her. She situates herself in the same way, tucking a hand under her pillow;
He finds her foot brushed up against his knee, held somewhat captive by the redhead and her soft hazel-green eyes;
Her eyes shut quickly, drifting off into her first dreamless sleep in weeks. He dare not touch her other than to quickly brush a stray hair from her face. She's safe and he would gladly do anything to keep it that way.
The soft scent of her citrus perfume calms his senses, forcing his eyes to close with her beside him.
In Natasha's haze, she reaches for his hand and intertwines his fingers with hers. He hugs her hand close to his chest and she smiles content to feel his heartbeat.
He tests a whisper;
"I love you, Natasha Romanoff."
The redhead cracks an eye open and quickly forces herself to remain still in her sleep. She'd address it in the morning...she has time, and she's grateful for that. Even if she has no intention of responding, she smiles to herself over sharing the sentiment, the emotion long denied her.
Did they need reasons?
They could both count over one hundred.
A/N: I want to give a quick shouout to readers and reviewers: previous and current who may have just found this series or are coming back for more.
I want to thank you all for reaching out with your commendations and reviews. Yes, I will be revamping ALL. There are storylines I'm not happy with and dialogue to change. As a writer, I don't know if the work is ever really "done." But I want to keep creating content for those of you who enjoy it. Sending out a wide virtual hug. Thanks for the support and love! :)