Bruce Banner sits cross-legged on the battered sofa, eating a grilled cheese sandwich with one hand and sorting the massive box of M&Ms just arrived via FedEx into color-coded jars with the other. There are worse ways to spend a Saturday night, he reflects as he drops a handful of red candies into the jar labeled 'Agent Romanoff.' Then again, there are definitely better. He stuffs in the last bite of sandwich and wipes his fingers on his Batman pajamas before sliding down to the floor and tackling the job two-handed. Even as he does so, the front door bangs, and Steve Rogers enters, ruddy-cheeked, bright-eyed and every blond cowlick cemented firmly into place as he grabs his freshly dry-cleaned spandex undies from the hall closet and fires off questions into his S.H.I. cell-phone. Banner wiggles his fingers at him as he strides down the hall, popping in a green M&M as he counts.
Rogers' voice halts abruptly, but only for a moment.
"I'm sorry,' he says. "I've got a slight problem at this end, sir. I'm going to have to call you back.'
Banner can almost hear the phone snap shut.
Captain America, never mind his other virtues, is nothing if not prompt. Banner pops another M&M into his mouth and looks up, chewing.
"Mmflggbt?' he inquires, around a mouthful of chocolate.
"What,' his room-mate says, holding up the punctured, crumpled sheet of paper in one hand, and the slim-tipped steel dart in the other, "is this?'
"A note,' Banner says. "And an arrow? I know how you hate it when anyone messes with your stuff, so I left them where they were.' He drops a limited-edition gold-starred candy in the jar marked ''Cap'. "Don't feel bad. He took my pillows.'
"Your...' Rogers' jaw locks, his cowlicks positively vibrating with the force even through the sleek, shining layers of gel. "Did you not even try to stop him?'
"I wasn't here. I had to run to the deli: we were out of cheese again, and before you ask, of course I locked the door behind me, but he's a master assassin, and probably has pinfeathers instead of chest hair besides. He doesn't use doors.'
Rogers lowered himself to his favorite armchair, then at the note.
"He took my shield,' he said. "Agent Barton broke in, and took my shield. Off my door. Off my door. Without asking, and...' His eyes narrow in confusion. "Your pillows? I mean, alright, the shield is one-of-a-kind; I can understand him wanting to borrow it, but why would he take your pillows?'
"No idea.' Banner pushes the table back and heaves himself to his feet. `Maybe Agent Romanoff murdered all of his; she's in town, after all, and she did in his bed and his spare-room futon last time. What does the note say?'
'You didn't read it?'
"No, of course not.' It's a test – a bit of an absent-minded one, given the circumstances, but a test nevertheless, and Banner knows exactly how he is expected to answer. He did read it, of course, but it wouldn't be politic to say so. Or nice. Banner isn't so much concerned with the politic, but he does make the effort on the nice, and never fails, besides, to remember what the rest of the world seems never to have processed at all: that Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, super soldier, patriotic icon and global hero or no, is still only and effectively a teenager. A teenager possessed of that fundamental and defining characteristic of all teenagers, no matter how temporally displaced – the tendency to see things in black-and-white-and-good-and-evil, never mind red-white-and-blue, and who would like to believe that his friends have the inherent sensitivity (and manners) to Stay Out Of His Stuff. The Big Guy scorns such niceties of course, and often loudly... Fortunately, he is easily soothed (or at least stifled) with such things as green M&Ms. Banner pops a mouthful hastily as He opens his. Theirs. Whatever.
"I'm sure he'll bring it back,' he says, once he's swallowed. "Undented, even. Did he say where he took it?'
"No.' Rogers examines the note. "But he'd better return it soon. I'm headed out to Nicaragua tomorrow, and I'm going to need it.' He tosses the arrow on the table and turns the paper over. "Never mind the fact that he and I are going to have words. Again. Friends don't just break into other friends' houses and steal their armor and equipment off their bedroom doors. Or at least they didn't in my day.'
"No,' Banner agrees, dropping a blue M&M, precisely the shade of the Norse god (small g: any room-mate of Captain America must always and perforce remember the small g) Thor's eyes into the third of the long line of jars. "I imagine they didn't. They just broke into other people's houses and stole the inhabitants out of their bedrooms and chucked them into concentration camps.'
"The people who did that sort of thing,' Roger says austerely, 'were not my friends.' He tossed the note aside and dug his cell-phone out, dialing. "Ah. Yes, sir. Rogers here. Sorry about that. Bit of a furor on the home-front. No, but I'm sure it will be, in plenty of time for take off tomor...' Banner looks over his bare shoulder from the kitchen door as the younger man pales almost audibly. "What? But.. You can't, sir, I mean... I can't! No, I don't have plans, and of course I understand that it's a critical situation, but...' He swallows. "Of course. Three hours. I'll be there.'
"Problem?' Banner inquires as he hangs up, redialing frantically.
"No, no. No problem at all. Pick up, Barton, you thieving pigeon, or I'll... Fine. Fine. You're out of range. Fabulous. Where's that list. Ah. Agent Romanoff. Rogers here; tell your purloining paramour that he'd better be back with my property in sixty minutes or... Oh for... NO, I do not want to leave a message! No, wait. I do. I have to leave in three hours for Nicaragua, and if I don't have my shield by then... I'll... I'll...' He sputters frantically. Banner leans against the door and watches as he throws the phone aside and drops his head in his hands. "He took my shield, Bruce,' he says miserably. "Without asking! What am I going to do now?'
"You need to learn how to relax, man,' Banner observes. "Take it from me: repression's really not good for your gut.'
Rogers just moans. Banner comes to sit beside him, on the arm of the chair, and rubs his tense, massive shoulders.
"You're more than the shield,' he says gently. "And the suit, and the contents of that bottle, no matter what that idiot Stark said. When are you going to realize that I assign him the brown M&Ms because he's full of shit?' The patting turns into a firm, one-armed hug. Surprisingly, or not, the much bigger man leans into him. Banner considers ruffling his hair, but refrains, reaching over to pick up the abandoned note instead.
'Drinks,' he reads. "Provisions. Fuzzy socks. Snow goggles. Ear muffs. Thermal toe warmers. Portable lightning rod. Flaming arrowheads. Sparkly lipstick. Steve's shield.'
"What?' Rogers grabs the note. "I didn't get that the first time around!"
"It's on the back, see, in Tash's handwriting. It must be the list of things they'd need wherever they were going. And it still doesn't explain why they swiped my pillows. Wait, where are you going?'
"It's rush hour,' Rogers says, grabbing his coat. "And they're headed somewhere cold, from the look of things. That can only mean one thing: they'll be stopping at Starbucks' to pick up Agent Romanoff's favorite cinnamon latte, and with the line-ups... We might be able to track them, if not catch them.'
"I'll meet you there.' He glances back as he reaches for the doorknob, and can't help but grin. "Nice jammies. Did you pick me up the set with Robin?'
"Are we actively pandering to our friends' dubious fantasies now, then?'
"Of course not. I would never condone that kind of speculative degeneracy.'
"Uh 're on your bed.'
Rogers actually chuckles, even as he bounds out the door and down the stairs.