There were few things that could make Bruce Banner truly angry. People thought that he had no control at all, thought that he would blow up at the slightest provocation. They were wrong.
Oh, sure, there were things which irritated him, annoyed him, irked him, drove him insane even, but over the years he had almost perfected his control until there was very little which could make him accidentally let out the other guy. Unfortunately, one of those few things was currently taking place in the middle of Venna Park.
"Look, there's the murderer."
"Freaky archer didn't even use a gun to murder them!"
Three SHIELD agents. Survivors of the attack on the helicarrier. Unlike so many of their friends and comrades, who were struck down by the unerring aim of Hawkeye. Unwilling or not, he had still killed them and these men were not abut to let it go.
The day had started so well. Steve had made bacon and eggs for breakfast, which they had devoured in their usual family style method of helping themselves to each other's plate. Tony had had a play wrestling match with Clint (and lost in a truly spectacular manner) and Bruce had managed not to let the other guy freak out over "metal man" and "Cupid" hurting each other. He was quietly pleased with himself for that. Usually if the Hulk thought they were being threatened he would smash first and ask questions later, but he was getting better at listening to reason. Sometimes.
Then Thor had professed his love for eating outside and Steve had immediately suggested a good old fashioned picnic. Tony had huffed and complained that grass would ruin his jeans and give him hay fever and what was wrong with a nice shawarma restaurant anyway, but he still bought an enormous hamper and stuffed it with food and grinned when he thought nobody was watching.
So, that brought them to now. The food had been demolished except for a few sandwiches lying abandoned on the obligatory red and white rug (brand new, 100% cashmere, though Stark swore up and down it had been in the cupboard for ages) and they were just sitting around and chatting, enjoying down time. Their day had been rudely interrupted by the arrival of the agents, unfortunately on leave at the same time that they were having their picnic. Really, of all the places in New York for secret operatives and heroes to hang out on a Tuesday, Venna Park seemed to be the main attraction. Perhaps he should study it further when they got home. But for now, there were three men playing on Clint's biggest regret and insecurity, and there wasn't much they could do to stop them.
He glanced over to where Clint sat beside Natasha, scanning him. Whereas before the agents had shown up, he was as close to relaxed as an ex-assassin ever got, sprawled out with Natasha's feet on his stomach, now he was sitting upright in what seemed an almost painfully straight posture. His muscles were as tense as the string on his bow, which they hadn't been able to convince him not to bring. It sat across his knees, knuckles white with strain as he clenched his fists around it. He flinched slightly as Natasha put a hand on his shoulder. Bruce sighed as the Hulk roared indignantly.
They're making Cupid sad!
I know, but we can't hurt them.
They're hurting him though, the mental voice pointed out quite logically. Logic. Not something he had ever associated with the Hulk, but they had been getting better at working together.
You were bullied at school. You were sad. How does he feel?
Bruce paused to consider that. Clint's usually blank face had been happy earlier. Now it was expressionless again, but Bruce could see the sadness, regret, bitterness, self loathing in his eyes. He saw red. None of them had any business hating themself but him. He put his sandwich down and stood up.
Steve frowned at the scene. Now, maybe he was a little out of touch, having spent seventy years in what Tony liked to call his "pretty badass cap-nap", but he was fairly sure that these people were going too far. Judging by the fact that Tony's repeated idle poking of his stomach was getting more and more half-hearted, he wasn't the only one to think so. He just hoped that Banner could keep it together. Hulking out in the middle of the park wasn't exactly good publicity.
He really did not like bullies. He had known a lot of them in his time, before he became the super soldier. Still, though he would dearly love to give these people a piece of his mind, it simply wouldn't do for Captain America to pulverise three SHIELD agents. He could see why they were upset. They had lost friends, comrades, and to add insult to injury they had lost them to an archaic weapon found in museums. That didn't give them the right to harm his team though.
He watched as Bruce stood, staying seated himself. That wasn't to say that he wasn't rooting for him.
"I wonder what happened with Coulson. Was it Loki who killed him, or Barton?" one of the agents wondered to his friends. Bruce snapped. He could tell that Coulson had been Clint's mentor. He hadn't spoken all day at the funeral.
He was on his feet, eyes fixed on the three agents. He felt the stares of his team-mates on his back, but he ignored them in favour of focussing on the threat.
Smash? asked the Hulk. Bruce hastened to refuse.
No smash. Maybe a little scaring though.
The first agent scoffed. "What? Afraid he'll get upset and kill you too?"
"No," he responded evenly. "I'm afraid that you aren't exactly endearing yourself to me and I'm rapidly losing patience."
One of the agents tugged on the first one's sleeve. "Leave it, Rotherman," he hissed. "That's Banner!"
The agent- Rotherman- paled slightly, eyeing Bruce. He snorted.
"Fine. I'll let you and your group of messed up freaks have your peace. Hopefully the next aliens will have them in pieces."
Bruce didn't really remember what happened next. All he knew was that five minutes later, the picnic basket was gone and the three agents were in the pond with matching black eyes.
He sat back down on the picnic blanket, ignoring the startled gazes as he picked up his sandwich again.
"So," he said conversationally. "Where were we?"
The discussion slowly picked back up, Bruce once more fading into the background where he liked it. He didn't miss Clint's penetrating stare, or the quick flash of a smile in his direction. And really, that was worth a bruised hand any day.
Sure, plenty of people thought Tony Stark was a selfish bastard. He did want them to think that most of the time. After all, if someone is selfish then they don't help others, and if they don't help others then there's no point tracking them down and asking for favours. Tony just didn't like being bothered. He wasn't really selfish. He was sitting in Central Park on Tuesday afternoon on a God damned picnic blanket, for Christ's sake. Never mind that he had hay fever. He wasn't about to ruin the day by bringing it up. But then there were these bozos standing blocking the sunlight and making Tony seriously consider breaking Fury's "no hurting people, no using reverse psychology on people when they get your order wrong, no killing people when they annoy you, no giving Thor espresso of any kind" rule. They were winding up Clint, and nobody had any business doing that but him.
Bruce had dealt with them. Quiet Doctor Banner, the biophysicist with truly astounding anger management issues, had stopped the agents from harassing Katniss without letting the Jolly Green Giant out to play. (Seriously, how the hell did skinny little Bruce manage to stuff that one agent in the picnic basket? Tony wasn't sure he wanted to know.) Non-lethal violence. Hard to top for legal revenge. To Tony, that sounded an awful lot like a challenge, and if there was one thing he loved, it was a challenge.
Many people called the Black Widow heartless. That wasn't true. Buried beneath six inches of metaphorical reinforced steel and concrete walls, she had a heart like any other woman. She loved chocolate, she loved fighting, she loved Johnny Depp. And if you ever accused her of loving Clint Barton, she'd put you through a wall just as thick as those around her heart. But not before you had a split second to realise that you were right.
Natasha loved him. So sue her. What, are you really going to confront her about it? Thought not. Still, assassins aren't meant to have feelings. The problem was that they did. They felt, they bled, they cried, they sweated, just like any other human. They were just better at hiding it.
So that was why when she saw the hurt in her partner's eyes, she put on her assassin expression and thought over ways to deal with the poor fools who dared torment her hawk.
Nick Fury paced his office, wondering what great evils, what hideous crimes, what unspeakable deeds he must have committed in a former life to deserve all six Avengers in his office on a Tuesday evening.
"Stark. Romanoff. Barton. Banner. Rogers." He wandered along the line of assembled heroes, pausing when he reached the thunder god. What the hell was he supposed to call him? Did Norse gods have surnames? His jaw flexed silently as he tried to work it out. From the other end of the line, Barton snorted. Cheeky brat. He eventually gave up.
That prompted another round of sniggering from several points along the line, though when he whipped around to glare at them he couldn't discern the culprits. He had his suspicions though.
He turned to Banner. "Would you care to tell me what happened?"
Banner flushed slightly and stared determinedly at his shoes. "Well... not really."
"Which of you miscreants would like to explain exactly what happened this morning?"
Barton raised a hand mockingly, waving it around like a child in nursery. "Ooh! Ooh! Pick me, sir! Pick me!"
He resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands and weep. Over the years, he had had many opportunities to be thankful for Coulson bringing the archer in. However, he had had just about the same number of opportunities to wish he had never met the man and his wisecracks. Especially now he was part of a team just as bad as he was, if Stark's high five around Romanoff's back was anything to go by.
He gritted his teeth. "Barton?" he ground out, feeling a definite headache blossoming behind his forehead. The archer put his hand down and affected an innocent expression.
"Well, there isn't much to tell really. We got up, Steve made breakfast- brilliant bacon, seriously. Bruce, you don't know what you're missing with your vegan-ness. The Captain does a mean rasher- Tony was a fail at wrestling, Thor got hungry, we had a picnic, got into a spot of bother and came home. Then we watched Star Wars and Nat thought lightsabers should be standard issue-"
"Back up a bit, Barton." Honestly, was a straight answer too much to ask for? What did he do in that former life time, ban chocolate or something?
Barton shrugged nonchalantly. "Star Wars?"
"Wrestling?" he tried, holding out under Fury's one eyed glower.
He sighed and gave in. "Picnic?"
"Well, we had egg and mayonnaise sandwiches-"
"BARTON!" The headache was throbbing to the tune of The Song That Doesn't End behind his right eyebrow. His patience was long gone.
Barton shrugged again and poked Romanoff.
"Tag. You're in."
Fury sighed, turning to the Widow.
The Russian examined her nails. "Like Hawk said, we went on a picnic and got into a little bit of difficulty. Nothing serious."
A muscle jumped in his jaw as he spun to Rogers.
The military man stood at attention. "We ran into a small situation which we managed to take control of. Situation resolved, sir. I don't believe there is any need for a debriefing."
He sense that there would be no way down that road. He turned to Thor.
The god rumbled, "We were feasting on some delightful sandwich snacks when we were approached by hostiles. We took care of the problem."
Fury groaned internally. That left him with one last hope for an explanation. He considered just grabbing Barton's bow and committing suicide by proxy. What cruel world would leave Tony Stark as his last hope for a sensible explanation?
"Stark? And no wisecracks."
The billionaire grinned and gestured wildly. "So we're sitting in the park when suddenly BAM!" He paused for effect, looking around conspiratorially. Fury found himself leaning in slightly.
Stark nodded seriously. "Bam. Three monkeys in suits show up."
Fury exploded. "MONKEYS?! "A spot of bother", "a bit of trouble", "a small situation", "took care of it", "monkeys in suits show up", no answer! Will one of you bloody tight-lipped insubordinates just tell me why I have one agent with the flu and a now pathological fear of picnic hampers, one under sedation after he hallucinated thousands of spiders in his bedroom and one who even all the satellites and phones on earth can't track down?!"
Romanoff raised a hand boredly. "Those spiders were anything but hallucinations."
Fury let out what sounded suspiciously like an angry shriek. "WHY?! WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?!"
Banner blinked, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Err.. Director? Are you all right?" he ventured, eyeing the man with concern. Fury was beetroot purple with rage. Banner patted him on the shoulder sympathetically.
"Deep breaths, Director. Take a breath, count to ten, release the breath. Open your hand and close it. Another breath. Come on, hold it for ten," he coaxed. Fury found himself following the doctor's directions and discovered that he was a little less wound up. He shook his head and sighed, flopping back into his chair. The assembled line eyed him like he was mad.
"Just go," he groaned, massaging his temples. The headache had turned into a migraine, he had a sneaking suspicion he had just been coached in anger management by Bruce Banner of all people, and he still had no idea where Agent Rotherman was. It was the mad cherry on top of the insane cake.
He felt a hand clap his shoulder.
"Well, I'll be off then, Cap'n Hook. You best go track down that crocodile. I'm not saying I know anything, but hypothetically if I did know anything, you might be advised to check flight records under the name of Samuel Tupid and track it down. That hypothetically could give you a lead."
Stark ambled off down the corridor with his hands in his pockets, whistling cheerfully. The rest of the Avenger's excused themselves, though just before the door shut Fury heard a whisper of, "Do you think we should tell him about the CCTV footage?"
He let his head hit the desk.
Agent Rotherman (aka. S. Tupid) was later tracked down and found to be in Antarctica, living beside a penguin colony and looking distinctly frazzled. Apparently he kept narrowly avoiding being hit by lightning. At that point, Fury stopped bothering to call the Avengers into his office for their misdemeanors. He was better off not knowing, and there was less paperwork that way.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am in love with the Avengers. I've seen the anime series and I also am in love with the theme tune. Come on people, it's the most badarse theme ever. I love them all! Clint is mysterious, Thor is gorgeous, Steve is adorable, Natasha is epic, Bruce is shy and brilliant, and Tony is hilarious.
I don't own them unfortunately. Boo. Still, they're fun!
Please drop a review if you liked it, or even if you didn't. I could use a chance to practice my retaliatory snark.