(An extra scene that takes place right after Chapter 5, from the Avengers' points of view)
"I know not why Loki has chosen to do this. If his purpose was only to disturb me, he has succeeded in that, but I fail to see what gains he's made."
Tony frowned at Thor's half-explanation. "No offense, big guy, but it's not like half of the things your brother does make any sense."
"Bag of cats," Bruce added, leaving his hand out for Tony to high-five. Thor huffed, clearly miffed that they weren't taking this seriously.
"He's not that hard to read," Natasha disagreed. "We just have to figure out why he chose Thor's Lady Sif's form."
Clint, still looking at the security feed that showed all fifteen seconds of Thor and Loki's encounter on a loop, shook his head. "I don't think he chose it. He seemed just as shocked as Thor was, and didn't push the advantage at all." Everyone crowded around him as he slowed the video to half speed. "See, you're completely open here. Loki's not slow, he could easily have taken advantage of that."
"Or so he wants you to think," Tony said, throwing his hands up in the air. "This is a guy with his finger in more pies than he has fingers. It's impossible to say what he wanted to get out of a single encounter." Bruce nodded encouragingly, and Tony continued. "We need more data points to find a pattern! It's not like the guy poofed in front of any of the rest of us in another form."
There was an awkward silence as everyone mentally re-evaluated if that was, in fact, true.
"Actually, Tony…" Steve looked apologetic. "Remember that charity gala with that girl who just 'disappeared' before you could introduce us?"
"Oh, no way…"
"I'm just saying, there aren't many people we know who can do that. And none of them are Japanese jet-setters."
Clint took the cover of the argument between Steve and Tony to sidle up to Natasha. "You think maybe freaky-penis boy was…"
The nice thing about Natasha was that, even if an idea completely repulsed her, she never answered without giving it due consideration. "What about your Bobbi look-alike?"
That was as good as a 'yes', or a 'probably'. Clint frowned. "Has anyone not had a run-in with Loki-in-disguise over the past few months?"
Tony stabbed a finger in Steve's chest. "What about that girl who ditched you?"
"What about her?" Steve shifted immediately to the defensive. "Just because you couldn't find her…"
"That's just as suspicious as physically vanishing from a crowded party, trust me," Tony said, victorious. "Natasha could've pulled off that stunt, but I'd've been able to find her after." Natasha looked like she could argue that, but was deciding not to. "That girl was totally a Loki!"
Bruce had been watching Thor carefully, and caught the look of resigned distaste. "Would he actually do that, Thor?" Bruce asked. "Manliness is a big thing for Asgard, isn't it? Would he willingly transform into a woman?" Other than a warrior-woman, like Sif.
Thor nodded. "It is no less than our father… than Odin Allfather did in his youth. There would be no disgrace to it, as long as he merely used the form to beguile and tease without allowing himself to be…" Thor nodded stiffly to Steve and Tony. "I thank you both for your courtesy to my brother in that form. It was more than he deserved, but I am grateful for it nonetheless."
Natasha smothered a laugh behind her hand and Clint elbowed her in the side. He'd seduced enough little sisters to know that if Thor knew what he'd done, he was as good as dead. Steve shot them both an admonishing look before turning to Thor. "It's nothing. I just wouldn't have felt comfortable. She… he was such a… lady."
Another awkward silence as everyone processed that.
Then Tony clapped his hands. "Alright! Data points! Let's get pattern finding."
They wrote down everything they could think of regarding Loki's forms and their own reactions to the forms. Thor's were honest and clear, the same love and respect he had for all his companions, Tony's were as vulgar as expected, Steve's were still faintly romantic with a touch of understated bitterness, Natasha's were quick and to the point ('useful') and Clint's…
Clint, as it turned out, still had something of an issue with being mind-fucked by Loki. While understandable, it made open and honest sharing difficult. It took a while, and a lot of help from Natasha, but eventually his history with Bobbi was brought out and Bruce made a muffled 'aha!' sound around the whiteboard pen he was using.
(The whiteboard was so that everyone, including Steve who preferred a tactile interface and Thor who distrusted the floating windows of information in the Tower, could write.)
Tony, rather than pointing out that the windows would have been less unhygienic, yanked the pen out of Bruce's mouth. "What?"
"I can't be certain… it's just preliminary…"
"We're still in brainstorming phase, here," Tony said impatiently. Sometimes getting Bruce to share was like getting blood from a rock. "Spill."
Bruce gestured towards the board. "Well, Tony has a… thing for Asians–"
"Pepper knows, and we're cool," Tony reminded everyone quickly. "The trick to not getting blackmailed is not having stupid, pointless secrets. Also, Pep looks amazing in a Japanese Schoolgirl outfit."
"You're oversharing again," Bruce said, continuing gamely on. "He chose a clone of Clint's ex-wife, and basically Ingrid Bergman for Steve."
Steve flushed. "Casablanca was the last movie I saw, before…"
"Hey, no shame," Tony said firmly. "She's still hot. Or she was until she died, like, three or four decades ago."
"Natasha's… partner was, I assume, just what she wanted?" Bruce suggested delicately, getting back on track, and Natasha nodded easily. "And Thor…" Bruce frowned. "Actually, Thor's doesn't quite fit in with my theory. See, I was guessing that Loki was taking the forms of everyone's secret desires, but I assume that if Thor had really wanted the Lady Sif, something would have happened."
Thor's face went as pale as Loki's usually was. "Ah…"
Tony was already waving that off. "Nah, Thor's head over heals with Jane. Besides, have you seen Sif and Thor together? Total bros."
"It is… not that simple," Thor said, slightly shamefaced. "I will admit that, while my love for Jane is very real and true, my… attraction to Sif has lasted centuries, and will likely never fully fade away within a mortal lifetime."
Everyone looked at Thor with varying degrees of sympathy and understanding. Tony just shrugged. "Hey, I'm seeing a freckled red head when I have a thing for Asians. Cap here's still idealizing the blonde bombshell while Carter was a brunette. Clint as a thing for his ex-wife and current coworker, and Natasha… actually, no. I'm not even touching that."
"Wise," Natasha said, her lips quirking up in unashamed amusement.
"And Brucy here…" Tony trailed off. "Hey, Banner. You're missing from this list."
Bruce smiled, not quite managing to filter the pain out of it.
"Yeah. That's weird, isn't it?"
It was pretty widely known, amongst those who worked with him, how (generally) Bruce controlled the Hulk. If he lost that control, through strong emotion or any kind of increased autonomic activity, the results were unpredictable at best. He'd practiced enough to be able to barely rein in the worst of the Hulk's impulses, but it was like saddling a tiger – a tentative hold at best, easily thrown.
The middle of a fight was safe enough. If the Hulk had enough acceptable targets, he rarely went after civilians or allies. But in a more… intimate situation…
Loki could have appeared in front of Bruce as his greatest fantasy, picture and tone perfect, everything Bruce could have ever wanted. And Bruce would have pushed him away as far and as fast as he could. He didn't have Tony's experience with saying no without breaking ties, or Natasha's ability to keep her needs and relationships in carefully controlled categories, or Steve's boy-scout honour, or even Clint's protective paranoia. He had The Other Guy, and the terror and anger that he carefully suppressed every moment of every day lest The Other Guy take control at a bad moment.
Bruce couldn't think of a worse moment than in the middle of sex. He remembered what had happened to Loki, a supposed god, when he caught the Hulk's attention. If Bruce had given a damn about Loki, that would have haunted him.
But he didn't.
He legitimately didn't care about Loki. Not one little bit.
And that… Bruce smiled. That was, in its own way, rather empowering. Freeing.
He left the others to their discussion over what to do about the newly discovered threat from Loki and made plans of his own.