Actions

Work Header

His and Mine

Chapter Text

“Well? What sort of curse has been cast upon me?”

 

After examining Thor’s neck for naught but a moment, Loki looked at his brother with sadness in his eyes. He tilted his head to one side, appearing unsure of what to say.

 

Thor frowned. “What is it?”

 

“This is no seidr, Thor. At least, not one cast by some sorcerer,” Loki said.

 

“Speak plainly, brother.”

 

“The marks are not a curse—the threads of this magic are rooted in Yggdrasil itself. They are the marks that tie your soul to your beloved’s.”

 

Thor stared at him.

 

“It is likely that they are just what they seem—they are but bruises, brother. I am sorry.” Loki gazed at him with pity in his eyes.

 

Thor brought a hand to his skin and felt a deep sorrow and anger surge within him, for the bruises that circled his neck like a noose were cruel, in the shape of fingers.

 

 

He attempted to contact his soulmate after that.

 

Thor had stormed the halls of the palace, sure that his beloved would be of nobility, but none had the matching bruises.

 

Perhaps they were of a different realm? The bruises were taking long to disappear, and not all the other races healed as quickly as the Aesir. He thought of visiting Vanaheim, entertaining the idea that his soulmate was Freyja, lithe and beautiful as she was. Or perhaps they were the strong and virile Freyr, who had shared his bed in the past.

 

Tracking spells did not work on soul bonds, that he knew. But there was a simpler way to find out who it was, and inwardly Thor cursed himself for not thinking of it sooner.

 

He sequestered himself in his study and gathered a quill and some ink. He put the quill to his forearm, writing the runes of his name.

 

He waited. And waited. He had to force himself to temper his impatience; it had only been a few hours––his soulmate probably hadn’t even seen it yet.

 

He decided to wait a few days longer, and took extra care not to wash off the ink. Every night for three days, he eagerly took off his vambraces and had to quash his disappointment each time.

 

At the end of the week, Thor scrubbed the black from his arms. In his gloom, he failed to notice the fresh bruises on his legs.

 

 

Thor was angry. He had been feeling more irritable lately and had taken it out on the Warriors Three earlier during training. Sif, after helping a bleeding Fandral to his feet, had punched him in the face and called him an inconsiderate boor.

 

Already his right eye was starting to swell. It didn’t hurt, of course; no, a black eye was an inconvenience at most. The people at court did not dare whisper as he stormed angrily past them; nobody bothered Thor when he was in a mood. Good, he thought; he wanted to be alone. Thor headed for his chambers.

 

He decided to bathe and take his mind off things. As he shed his clothes, something on his left leg caught his eye.

 

It was so small he almost missed it. There, near the juncture of his thigh and hip, were a set of letters, neatly written.

 

Are you okay?

 

He rushed into his room to grab something to write with. He had tried to communicate frequently over the past few years, but his soulmate never responded. He’d not thought of using anything but runes, and while ordinarily that would frustrate him—it had been so simple!—he was excited at this turn of events, foul mood gone in an instant.

 

By the time he had found a quill, the words had turned into a faint smudge. He panicked; he did not want his soulmate to feel that he had ignored them.

 

Quickly, he wrote down a sentence in a looping scrawl.

 

I am alright. This is nothing; it does not hurt.

 

There was a brief moment of nothing. Thor waited with bated breath. Letters appeared slowly, the writing almost hesitant.

 

It looks like it hurts to me.

 

Then,

 

Can you erase the writing?

 

Thor frowned, and immediately wrote back.

 

Why do you not wish for others to see?

 

He did not think it was for privacy. The first message had been wiped clean, even though it would be hidden by layers of clothing.

 

There was nothing for a while, and Thor had honestly thought he had scared his soulmate into silence. When the writing resumed again, he closed his eyes, feeling immensely grateful. The feeling didn’t last long. The words said,

 

My dad’ll get mad.

 

Thor clenched his fists.

 

Your father is the one who hits you? The reason why you have fresh bruises every day?

 

Yes.

 

His soulmate erased their words again, and Thor got up to find a washcloth and do the same. He let out a breath, furious.

 

Trying to calm himself, something occurred to him. He wrote down the words, in such a rush that his script lacked its usual grace.

 

What is your name?

 

Nothing for a long time. He wrote again.

 

I am Thor, son of Odin.

 

He hoped to spark some recognition, anything. Maybe his beloved was a commoner; he would accept them nonetheless. Thor knew he was grasping at straws, for it was more likely they were from a different planet entirely; the realms he was familiar with such as Vanaheim or Alfheim rarely used this alphabet, and they did not write the way his soulmate did.

 

Thor was occupied enough that when new words appeared, their meaning did not reach him at first. When they did, his brow furrowed.

 

Why would you say something like that?

 

Thor wrote many things in return, questions and pleas to not stop writing, all to which his soulmate never replied.

 

 

Years passed and they never replied.

 

 

Thor had bruises on his neck again. This time, the mark was an ugly purple bruise that went all the way around from the hollow of his throat to his nape.

 

He was angry, and horrified, and so, so scared.

 

Are you there?

 

Please write back.

 

Please be alright

 

and

 

Why?

 

 

Bruce sat in the emergency room with his aunt. He read the words on his wrist and cried.

Chapter Text

Bruce opened his messenger bag, paused briefly, then shook his head fondly at what he found inside. He had been doing that more and more lately, in the months since starting university. He was...happier.

 

He had friends now. Betty and him got on since the first class they shared together, and she had taken to leaving him little thoughtful presents whenever she could. This time, it was a book of—limericks? He opened it to the bookmarked page, bemused.

 

The ad said, for one little fee,

You can skip all that course-work ennui.

So send your tuition,

For boundless fruition!

Get your mail-order physics degree!

 

He couldn’t keep the wry smile that crept on his face. Of course, in Bruce’s case the degree was from Harvard, and the little fee in question was only, oh, selling his soul to the military. Still, he knew he’d never be able to afford an education like this on his own, so he was grateful.

 

Outside it had begun to rain, and he was hit with a strange nostalgia. Bruce took off his glasses, closing his eyes and breathing in deep. He imagined he could smell the ozone in the air, the petrichor.

 

Biting his lip, he was struck with a very stupid idea. So stupid, he didn’t even know why he was considering it. He had barely spoken to his soulmate in years; after reassuring them that he was alright after...well, that time in the hospital, he just hadn’t responded much to them.

 

His soulmate still wrote to him occasionally. It was little things, like, How are you today? and May you fare well. Bruce replied, but he never tried to engage.

 

Maybe it was time for that to change.

 

Taking a pen to his palm, he wrote,

 

Hello, Thor.

 

He had begun to believe that maybe his soulmate was from Scandinavia. When he was fifteen, he had felt hurt and confused because Thor, son of Odin sounded—well, a little ridiculous at the time.

 

He didn’t get a response that day, or the next, but he kept from erasing the marks even though he itched to do it. When the writing began to fade, he wrote over it again. He was determined to make things right.

 

Finally, his patience was rewarded and he got a message in return a few days later.

 

I apologize for not writing sooner. I have been busy, as my father sent me on an errand.

 

Whenever his soulmate had offered information about themselves, they had always phrased things strangely. Bruce had begun to think that they were censoring their words, as he had always clammed up during those times, thinking they were making fun of him. Now, he believed that perhaps there was some language barrier here, and was becoming more comfortable with his theory.

 

That’s okay. I understand things get busy.

 

They had started to write again, but Bruce cut them off with an,

 

I’m sorry.

 

And,

 

I haven’t been a very good soulmate, have I?

 

Bruce held his breath. He was taking a huge leap here. Now that he was in a better place, he felt like he couldn’t deny himself a chance at happiness any longer. It was all he could hope that this wasn’t too little, too late.

 

When his soulmate wrote back, it certainly wasn’t with anything he was expecting.

 

I will wait forever for you.

 

His breath caught in his throat. Bruce stared at the message for too long, it seemed, because they had begun to write again, a bit hesitant this time.

 

I am sorry as well. I do not know what it is I have done, but you’ve never been comfortable with me.

 

The writing trailed all the way down his forearm. Bruce felt like he needed to explain.

 

No! It’s not you at all. I’ve had some issues I needed to sort out.

 

Thank you, for waiting.

 

Taking a deep breath, he took the plunge.

 

My name is Bruce Banner.

 

 

He had started referring to his soulmate as exclusively Thor in his head. He was pretty sure they were a guy, even though he still sometimes thought Thor was screwing with him about the name.

 

It didn’t really bother him, the idea that his soulmate was a man; although soulbonds between two men were not widely accepted especially in certain institutions, they were not uncommon at all. Besides, soulbonds were a private and intimate thing between two or more people. Betty’s boyfriend, a psych major, had insisted on teaching him about the last part.

 

Betty and Leonard weren’t soulmates. In fact, they didn’t see each other often at all. They had met during a conference in Willowdale and had gotten along so well that they decided to give it a try. They had been going steady for a few months now, and were happier than ever.

 

That was the thing about soulmates—being bonded to someone didn’t guarantee happiness, your choices did. Rebecca and Brian Banner had been soulmates, and look where that ended up.

 

Bruce cut that thought short and buried it deep.

 

A while after he met Betty, Bruce had entertained the thought of a life where she was his soulmate. After all, things would be so much simpler; they were easy friends, and he loved her already.

 

In many ways, it felt like Thor was still a stranger to him. After Bruce finally introduced himself, they had begun exchanging messages almost every day. They were mostly exchanges about how they were feeling at a certain time, and sometimes Bruce would even scribble little messages about the things he was studying in class.

 

Thor never offered much about his own life, but he had always seemed interested in whatever Bruce had to say. That made him feel a little guilty, thinking he had turned Thor off from sharing anything about himself.

 

He wondered what Thor was like. He imagined someone tall, lanky and fair haired, but that didn’t seem quite right. Perhaps he was a brunette with a beard and a strong jaw.

 

Well, it wouldn’t do much good to wonder.

 

What do you look like?

 

A few hours later, a bizarre caricature appeared on the back of his hand. The figure was bearded, with long hair and what looked like armor. He was also carrying a big hammer.

 

Bruce smiled despite himself.

 

Hey, come on, I was being serious!

 

The reply came quickly.

 

My apologies, I’m afraid I am not very skilled at drafting figures.

 

Haha, it’s alright. I’m not much of an artist either, but if you were curious…

 

Bruce had made a sketch on a notebook of himself. For a self-portrait by someone whose drawing experience was limited to scientific diagrams, it wasn’t too shabby. He painstakingly copied the drawing—which, admittedly, looked like a cartoon—hoping it would at least make Thor smile.

 

But Thor was full of surprises.

 

I will never stop searching for you, Bruce. I swear it. I will hold you in my arms one day.

 

 

Years passed, and Bruce found himself with a little crush on his eccentric soulmate. He knew in his heart that they were content.

 

 

Bruce put down the phone, unable to suppress his excitement. He had to tell Thor the good news.

 

 

The words appeared on Thor’s forearm like an omen.

 

I got the military contract!

Chapter Text

It had been a while since he had last traveled to Alfheim. There was an uprising among the Elves of the Vale, a usually peaceful people who were known for their herds of wild ’corns. Unicorns, that is. That’s why it was so surprising, this unrest. Why would one of the light elves turn against their own, especially in such a tranquil land?

 

The invitation came from one of their senators, who had requested passage through the Bifrost. He had made his appeal to Odin, who sent Thor to gain more diplomatic experience as an emissary of Asgard.

 

Queen Aelsa greeted him at the dais of the palace, beckoning their party over to her. Once inside the feasting hall, she waved her hand and servants poured them horns of firefly wine.

 

“Thor Odinson, crown prince of our allies in Asgard.” Her voice was ethereal as she spoke his title. She turned to his brother, to Sif, and to the Warriors Three, acknowledging them each in turn. As she sat languidly at the head of the table, she addressed Thor again.

 

“The children of Alfheim are most grateful for you coming in our time of need. Kindly send the Allfather my regards.” It was likely all she would say on the matter; although Asgard stood above them in the order of the realms, the queen had never been one for blandishments or honeyed words. The next things she said were with the same level tone, and were it anyone else Thor was sure they would be wry and mocking, “I did not expect you to come yourself, Odinson. Hopefully you have learned your lesson since you were last here.”

 

Thor eyed his friends warily, and sure enough they could barely keep themselves from snickering in front of her majesty. Loki, of course, looked as innocent as ever.

 

“My apologies again for that slight, Queen Aelsa.” He bowed his head slightly—and couldn’t help but make light of it, smiling his roguish grin, “Although surely setting me on fire for attempting to steal a lock of your hair was a tad too much?”

 

It was to his credit that her lips upturned the slightest bit. Instead of entertaining his charms, however, she raised her goblet. “A toast, to friends of Alfheim. May our realms continue to rely upon the other in times of need.”

 

“Hear, hear!”

 

The wine filled his belly with warmth and, sure enough, he began to glow. The Moon Elves were famous for fermenting grapes with bioluminescent properties. He caught a glimpse of himself on the shining surface of the platter in front of him.

 

Thor was not one to admire himself all that much; he knew he was attractive, but he didn’t flaunt it. He had his mother’s looks and his father’s strength. He had his charisma and her fierce eyes. It was those eyes that were lit with a soft blue glow now, and while the sight was beautiful, he was struck with an ominous feeling.

 

The rest of the night, the alcohol sat heavily in his gut, and the food tasted like ashes in his mouth.

 

 

The campaign lasted a mere two days. He did not even need Mjolnir for this—no, that would not be in fair kind to the elves who, although skilled with magic, had rarely seen battle in their lives. There were many of them, though, and they had enlisted the help of a few truly impressive sorcerers, even Thor had to admit.

 

This would have lasted but hours had I not had to restrain my might, he thought. He was growing impatient with these cowards, who had to resort to tricks and could not even dare face him head on.

 

It all came to a head when, on the other end of the battlefield, Volstagg let out a battle cry that was promptly cut off. Looking over, Thor felt something snap—there was a shift inside him, and all around him.

 

He was filled with a great fury as he saw his friend being lifted off the ground, energy like a vise coiled around his throat, nearly crushing it. He saw red, and charged .

 

It felt exhilarating, letting out his pent up frustration. Left and right, he tore through his opponents like they were naught but parchment.

 

He knew something had changed within him. But while this—this berserker rage filled him from some outside source and left him feeling unhinged; the violence coursing through his veins was none but his own.

 

Thor! Thor, stop!”

 

Suddenly, he couldn’t move. He growled at Loki, who had taken a step back and whose eyes had widened in fear. He simply did not care. He smelled the blood in the air, and it was sweet. That seemed to triggered something immediately, and inwardly there was a sense that something was wrong.

 

As quickly as he felt the rage fill him, he felt it subside. Thor was left heaving and shuddering and tired. The high that he felt still sang in his blood, but his senses had come back to him.

 

He looked around him, at the injured people on the ground, afraid for their lives. The sweetness in the air—looking down, the blood on his hands was of no man’s. The unicorn that lay on the ground was in an unnatural position. Thor felt—

 

He felt...

 

Loki was the one who approached him. The fear was gone from his eyes, but he still moved cautiously. His hands were raised in a calming motion, and while that would usually irritate Thor, he could barely think over the fog that had clouded his mind.

 

“Thor, brother—are you alright?”

 

He couldn’t respond. He could hear Loki talking to him, speaking in hushed tones but he did not listen.

 

Loki had put a hand on his shoulder. His next words caught Thor’s attention.

 

“Brother, you…I do not believe you were solely at fault. Your eyes—they were lit with magic—Thor, for a moment, your eyes glowed bright green.”

 

 

The aftermath of the battle was a disaster. Loki had spoken to the Allfather, recounting the events that had transpired, and Odin had agreed with his son’s offer to make reparations to the Vale Elves. Thor was sent back to Asgard, where Frigga met with him at the Bifrost.

 

His father did not reprimand him. Instead, he looked at Thor with a sharp eye, and told him to reflect on this before sending him to his quarters.

 

Thor hurried to his room, needing to confirm something. He found a quill and wrote on his leg, in a place that would not easily be seen.

 

Bruce,

 

Are you alright? Did something happen?

 

Please, we need to talk. I need to make sure you are safe.

 

There was no reply.

 

Thor steeled himself. He needed to speak with Heimdall.

Chapter Text

“How fares he today, Heimdall?”

 

If Heimdall were another man, Thor was sure he would have laughed. He imagined it, a deep rumble falling from his lips.

 

“You ask again, your highness?”

 

Thor smiled wryly. “You said it yourself—his situation changes every day. Entertain my fancies, please, my friend.”

 

“He has a brilliant mind,” Heimdall acquiesced. “Out of necessity, he has learned how to hide. He is at peace, for now.”

 

 

Bruce was dreaming.

 

He was underwater, and there was a school of fish in the distance. Swimming towards them, his big, hulking hands made currents all around him. As he reached them, the fish glided over his body, some stopping to nip at his green toes. It was…nice, under here. He was safe.

 

Bruce woke, washed up on a shore.

 

His skin was an angry red, and his face burned as he squinted up at the sun. Briefly, it occurred to him that he had swum there, and that he hadn’t been dreaming.

 

What even is my life, he thought.

 

Groaning, he sat up to find himself on a white sandy beach. Great. Now he wouldn’t ever have to wonder what it would be like to get stranded on a desert island.

 

He sighed. How was he going to get out of this one?

 

 

About an hour later, a fisherman who had been hauling his catch along the shore found him walking the coast, and was kind enough to take him in.

 

“Sorry? I don’t—what country is this?”

 

The man shook his head and waved his hands in the universal gesture for no. Bruce thought he was in some deep shit.

 

He had barely overcome the language barrier in Brunei. Languages had never been his forte; he had a minimal grasp of the Spanish he had taken up during his high school days, but that was pretty much it.

 

Bruce had gotten some curious looks from the other islanders they had passed along the way. He was no longer shirtless, thankfully, as the man had thrown him a threadbare top and made impatient gestures for him to put it on. As they entered a hut, the man waved a young girl over. She had the same tanned skin as—Bruce assumed—her father, and had the bright eyes of every curious child. She looked at Bruce with an eager expression and said, “‘Kano!”

 

Bruce just smiled back, looking a little helpless.

 

Her peals of laughter rang throughout the house. “Are you American?”

 

Oh thank god. “Yes, I. I’m sorry, I don’t remember how I got here…where am I?”

 

She rattled off a name he didn’t recognize. When he still looked clueless, she giggled and said, “It’s in the Philippines.”

 

He tried to keep himself from visibly deflating. He had swum all the way from Indonesia to another country entirely.

 

At least that would throw Ross off, Bruce thought. For a while. Hopefully.

 

“Did you just get here? You look pretty, um,” she struggled to find the right word. “—tired? For a tourist. Are you here for the fiesta?”

 

“Oh, no—I, uh, actually have to leave soon. I have to take a boat because I’m going to—Manila?” After a brief pause, he hedged, “Do you happen to have a map?”

 

She thought about it, twirling a finger through her waist-long dark hair. Then she said, “Not here. No.”

 

He held his breath.

 

“But the school should have one.”

 

 

Her school was small, and he learned that their town was at the outskirts of a pretty large chain resort that was only a jeepney ride away. The kids crowded around him, asking him questions like, Are you staying at the resort? and, I thought Americans were supposed to be blonde!

 

When things finally settled down, he spoke to the principal and explained his situation as best as he could; that is, not very well. He got some weird looks, but managed to convince her that he wasn’t a complete creep. The girl, who had introduced herself as Pilar, had given a testimonial that definitely helped.

 

“Ms. Mahinay, he fixed our TV! The cable finally works!”

 

Minutes later found the children playing outside in the schoolyard, so he was able to use one of the classrooms for himself.

 

Thor.

 

Don’t worry about me, I found a place to stay for now.

 

Bruce hated this. He hated that they could use Thor against him, so he had insisted on not sharing any personal details while he was on the run.

 

When Thor had contacted him after the accident...he couldn’t help it. He was alone, and afraid, and so—so—

 

...and so now his soulmate knew. Not that he was a monster, no, but he had fabricated some story that he stole something from the military. Thor just didn’t know that the weapon Bruce stole was himself.

 

The offer still stands. I can take you in; they would not find you where I am. I promise you this.

 

Bruce highly doubted that. Even if Thor lived in Sweden, which remained politically neutral, that was no guarantee that the military wouldn’t strong-arm their way into the country to find him.

 

That’s not a good idea.

 

Bruce hesitated. There were a million things he could have written, from I’m sorry for doing this to you, to Please, forget about me. And the worst one, I miss the life we could have had.

 

The decision was taken out of his hands, however, when Thor wrote back,

 

All right, I trust you. Stay safe, Bruce.

 

Biting his lip, Bruce closed his eyes and dreamt of a different life.

 

 

A few weeks—and more than a couple (dozen) appliance repairs later, he had managed to join a group of tourists on a small boat back to a major city.

 

Working odd jobs had endeared him to the townspeople, and when he brought it up one of them said, “Robert. I have a cousin in Manila who can get you wherever you need to go—you had nothing and yet you have shared plenty with us. I can make a call, just tell me when.”

 

And Bruce had thought he’d lost his faith in people.

 

 

He was sure they’d made him. He caught glimpses of people looking at him just a little too long in car mirrors, shop windows.

 

Perhaps he was getting a little paranoid; no one made any moves for him after all.

 

He waited in the alley for the woman Betty had referred him to. He was taking a chance with this, involving her again after what he had done to her...but he trusted Betty. He just hoped he hadn’t damned her by getting in touch.

 

Her contact was tall for any woman, much less a Chinese one; svelte, and the way she dressed was imposing—avant garde in all black, with a cropped turtleneck and high waisted trousers.

 

“Remember, make sure no one sees you on the ship.” She looked at him strangely, then, and Bruce could’ve sworn he saw her eyes flash. “Good luck.”

 

He nodded at her, and said earnestly. “Thank you, Laura.”

 

 

“What do you mean he didn’t show up?”

 

“I’m so sorry, Betty. He just wasn’t there when I arrived.”

 

 

“You did what?!”

 

“Come now, brother,” Loki grinned slyly. “Surely you expected I would be curious about this soulmate of yours. Besides, I helped him out of a tight spot. No one should have been able to see Banner on the ship, which guaranteed his safe passage.”

 

“Still, you—you had no right to see him before I!”

 

“Ah.”

 

“...will you at least take me with you next time?”

 

“Not a chance.”

 

Loki!”

 

 

“He barely evaded capture this time, your highness.”

 

The smile on Thor’s face faltered. “The man, Ross—he will catch up to Bruce soon.”

 

“I believe so.” Heimdall examined Thor’s troubled expression, before inclining his head, “If I may say so, you do not often second guess yourself, Thor. What stops you now?”

 

“He does not know of my life, Heimdall. That I am of another realm. Loki has cautioned me not to interfere and I am...inclined to follow him on this.”

 

Heimdall said nothing, looking at him.

 

Thor looked steadfast.

 

“I believe in him. He will find a way.”

 

 

Bruce got caught once, and only once.

 

He had been so careful. A few days into his stay in Guizhou province and his gut told him to leave. For a week he traveled northwest along the border of Sichuan, never settling in one village. Bruce had thought he was in the clear, but they tranqued him just as he crossed the border from Yunnan to Tibet.

 

As he felt sleep overcome him, he thought of Thor—and if he would ever get to see him in this lifetime.

 

He didn’t know how long he was unconscious, but when he first woke, he found himself on a gurney. Through the fog clouding his mind, it registered. He wasn’t even strapped down.

 

Ha.

 

He sank into oblivion.

 

The first few days—weeks?—he was in an out of consciousness. Scientists and doctors came into the room to draw blood, but that was it. No one attempted to talk to him, and when Ross suddenly appeared in the room he didn’t know if it was a hallucination.

 

Bruce wouldn’t put it past him to gloat.

 

They checked his vitals more than once each day, but they didn’t feed him. Bruce knew he didn’t need it. He had tried, before, to see how long he could go without food; he lasted forty-eight days before he could feel an attack coming. He couldn’t risk an episode, not while in such a populated area, and as much as he wanted to wither away—he couldn’t let himself go there.

 

Now, though…

 

He knew what they were doing with his blood—they wanted to recreate the freak accident that had made his other self. It wouldn’t work, of course; he had come to terms with the fact that the only reason it had worked was because he was every bit the monster his father said he was.

 

Bruce’s body had never been his. When he was born, it belonged to his father. And then for a time, he merely considered it a way for Thor to communicate with him. If he let himself be used now, then it would belong to Ross.

 

He would not let himself become a tool for the military.

 

When Bruce finally could, he started counting the days. It was difficult, not in the least because there were no windows and they never turned the lights off. But the routine was constant, and that sustained him.

 

Over the course of a week, he felt the fog begin to lift.

 

They didn’t know. They couldn’t tell. Bruce held back his laughter, knowing that there were eyes on him and that it would give him away. He couldn’t let them find out.

 

Soon, he’d be able to leave.

 

Bruce pretended he was asleep. In the past few days, the only thing that kept him from reacting when someone entered the room was getting out.

 

The doctor came at the same time each day. The first time he noticed it, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

 

Careless.

 

He experimented with shifting his muscles. He had one chance at this. Bruce couldn’t afford to screw up and suddenly find himself strapped down to a table because his body wouldn’t cooperate with him at the right moment.

 

Then one day, he knew it was time.

 

When the doctor approached him as usual, he groaned and shifted a little—but not enough to alarm her. As she reached him, he made a move to sit up, and then quickly grasped the front of her coat. He let out a fierce growl, and didn’t even have to fake how hoarse and gritty it was.

 

As expected, she jerked back and, wide-eyed, called for back up as she rushed from the room. He had maybe a minute, probably less.

 

Reinforcements were coming. It was now, or never. Time to finally make this body his.

 

He jabbed the pen into his throat and pulled.

Chapter Text

Thor woke up with a strangled gasp, clutching at his throat.

 

 

There was no mark on his neck to speak of, and yet Thor knew deep in his bones that something terrible had happened.

 

With Mjolnir, he flew in a rush through the storm that had manifested in his sleep. Reaching the Bifrost, he made to ask Heimdall what had occurred, but stopped at the expression he was given.

 

Heimdall looked at him with such a heavy gaze that Thor found it difficult to swallow. In that moment, he found that he could not speak. He held his breath.

 

“He is safe, finally.”

 

Thor was puzzled. This was good news—

 

“He had to die in order to escape.”

 

He felt his blood run cold. That could only mean one thing, and the implications did not settle his racing heart. It had never been more difficult to find his voice. “And now?”

 

“He sleeps."

 

 

If Bruce had turned, Thor could not risk writing being seen on his bare flesh.

 

The wait had not tested his patience, which surprised him. It tested his resolve.

 

Resolve not to ask more about the events that happened. Resolve not to storm the Earth, bringing floods and his wrath down to those who hurt his beloved. Resolve to trust in Bruce’s own strength.

 

For Bruce was strong. The strongest person he knew.

 

Stronger than himself, in so many ways.

 

 

“You have been distracted lately, Thor.”

 

“...”

 

“It has not escaped your father’s notice that you go to Heimdall almost every day.”

 

“...”

 

“Am I such a burden, that you cannot even turn to look at your own mother when she speaks to you?”

 

That caught his attention.

 

“No, Mother, I—” Thor made to explain himself, but the words caught in his—

 

He raised his hand in an aborted motion to rub his neck.

 

His mother looked at him, gaze sharp but with kindness in her eyes. Odin Allfather was the one with the all-seeing eye, and yet Thor thought that Frigga was the one who could always see right through him.

 

“What troubles you, my son?”

 

Nothing of import, he wanted to say, and immediately he hated himself for even implying that of Bruce. Instead, he deflected, “I do not want to worry you, Mother.”

 

She raised an eyebrow.

 

Thor ducked his head, abashed. In a quiet voice, he said, “Surely you know by now. My beloved, he…”

 

Frigga looked like she would wait any number of moons for him, given how tranquil she appeared. That had always inspired confidence in him, as a boy; he would upset himself over what he would later consider a very  small thing, and turning to his mother she would be as unruffled as ever.

 

“He has been in trouble. The berserker that lives within his body has been a cause of...strain for Bruce, to say the least. There are people who would see him dead; or worse, made into a weapon for their cause as he lives a life of torture.”

 

“Thor. About that—there is something we must discuss,” Frigga said, gravely.

 

Thor felt in that moment as unsure as he had as a child under the gaze of his father’s one eye. “Mother, you...do you not approve of my match, because he is from Midgard?”

 

“I would approve of anyone worthy enough to have my son as their soulmate. And from what I have heard...” Her eyes were tender as she cupped his cheek in her hand. She smoothed the wrinkles from his brow, and ran her fingers through his hair in a motion most familiar. “...he is a match for you in both his strength and his heart."

 

Thor shut his eyes, not wanting her to see how bright they had become as he ached at the comfort she brought him.

 

“What must we speak of, then, Mother?”

 

“How much do you know of your brother, Balder?”

 

Thor tilted his head at the sudden change of topic. “He...was my younger brother, older than Loki. I remember nothing of him when he was alive, and you have never spoken much of him. I have never asked, because I would not cause more grief for a bereaved mother.” He hesitated. “I admit I have always been curious, but...you have never seemed ready to speak of him.”

 

“He was a sweet child, Thor. Brave beyond measure,” Frigga said, wistfully. “You would have loved him.”

 

“I—I am sure I would have, Mother. But why…?”

 

“Because I have not been fair to you or your brother. Your father and I had discussed this at length, and we believe we must not keep the truth from you any longer. I bring up Balder, for while he is the son I grieve, I must remind you that he is not the only son I love, dearheart.”

 

Thor did not dare interrupt.

 

Frigga smiled, and there was a hint of sadness in it. “Your father and I are soulmates, but I am not the only woman he has ever loved. The reason why we have never questioned your bond to a Midgardian is because you are more connected to that realm than you know, love. Thor, the one who bore you was not I, but Jord, the primeval goddess of Earth.”

 

 

They spoke for a long time.

 

Thor, he found, was not at all upset with Odin or Frigga for keeping this from him. It was like the time in Alfheim when he had first felt the other Bruce’s anger within him. Something shifted inside him, and fell into place.

 

He asked many questions about the woman who had borne him. What Frigga knew, she was happy to relate.

 

“She is known by many names; Gaea, foremost among their people, but to the Midgardians she is also fondly referred to as Mother Nature.”

 

Thor thought of the lush forests in which Bruce had always found himself asleep after a transformation, and suddenly he understood why he never questioned that his soulmate would be safe there.

 

“Mother, I—I would speak with her. I feel that I must understand my heritage, where I come from. But...I shall not, if it would upset you. I would only go with your blessing.”

 

“You know I would never tell you not to follow your heart, my dear, when it has always been your greatest quality.” Frigga looked at her son with twinkling eyes. “You get that from myself, of course.”

 

Thor grinned, a weight lifted from his shoulders. “Others would say that Loki takes after you, Mother, not I. And those same wagging tongues would say that Father and I are too alike for our own good.”

 

“Nonsense. You are both my sons before you are his.”

 

His smile echoed hers in brilliance.

 

“Besides, we all know Loki takes after your father with his dark hair and flair for the dramatics. Not to mention in pure stubbornness—actually, you both get that from him.”

 

Thor laughed, a rumbling and deep sound from his belly. “Come now, mother, you must not let Loki hear you. He shall sulk all day at the comparison.”

 

Frigga raised her eyebrow, strong and fierce and confident all at once, and Thor had never seen more resemblance between her and himself than in that moment.

 

“He shall live. As for your journey, take all the time you need to meet with Jord—I have given Heimdall permission to tell you where she is.” It was as simple as that, and Thor loved his mother dearly. “Now, Thor. Tell me more about this Bruce Banner of yours...”

 

 

Jord resided in a plane that was not on Midgard, as Thor had expected, but instead in the branches of Yggdrasil.

 

As he traveled through its boughs, Thor thought of the Norns that his father sacrificed his eye to. He spent his journey recalling the stories the Allfather had told him and his brother, about the three women who spent their eternal lives tending to the roots of the World Tree.

 

He wondered about the things Loki had whispered to him, climbing under Thor’s covers when they were but children. Loki had always been afraid of the Norns—of Skuld, the child who prophesied the future; of Urd, the crone and keeper of the past; and of Verdandi, the beautiful maiden who held the present in her hands.

 

How could three beings hold the power to all nine realms, Loki had cried. It is not fair, brother, how little control we have over our own lives.

 

Thor thought about Bruce and of himself, both caught in the singular journeys that fate had decided for them, and finally understood Loki’s fears.

 

When he at last reached her dwelling, Jord was waiting for him.

 

“I’ve been expecting you, Thor Odinson.” She smiled, cheekily. “Or would you prefer Friggason?”

 

Thor found that he liked her immensely.

 

They spoke of many things, and there was no bitterness between them. There was only curiosity on Thor’s end, and a sense of yearning from Jord.

 

Finally, as he was about to return to Asgard, Jord said, “I shall leave you with a gift. May I inscribe something on your skin?”

 

Thor nodded. He...trusted her.

 

She told him to turn around, and with deft fingers she wrote something on his nape. Thor felt a blanket of magic settle around him.

 

“It is naught but for protection. Do not worry—no fertility spells, I promise.”

 

He grinned widely. “As though I’d need it.”

 

In the end, he left in higher spirits than he had been in a while.

 

 

The coronation was to be in a month.

 

During his nightly dinners with Odin, Frigga, and Loki, Thor had noticed how weary his father had grown. Though they had been planning the shift of the crown from the Allfather to his son for more than a year now, the recent events had Thor second-guessing himself.

 

The dinners were held not in the feasting hall, but intimately, in Frigga’s private gardens. This would be the first time he’d seen her since he had left on his quest to speak with the woman who had borne him. Loki seemed distracted during the dinner, and Thor told himself that he would speak with his brother afterwards.

 

In the middle of their meal, Thor decided it was time.

 

“Allfather, there is something we must speak of. May I see you in your chambers, later?”

 

“Speak plainly, Thor. You are among family.”

 

“It is of grave importance, Father, perhaps somewhere more private…”

 

“If you wish to say something, say it in front of your mother and brother as well.”

 

“Very well.” There was the slightest bit of hesitation in Thor. He steeled himself, adjusting his stance. “I do not believe I am fit for the crown in my current state. I wish to serve Midgard, be its protector. Therefore, I renounce the throne and offer in my stead Loki, who is more suitable for it than I have been thus far.”

 

Loki choked.

 

Frigga hummed and drank the wine from her goblet.

 

Odin sighed.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure about this, brother?”

 

“More sure than I have ever been, Loki. After what you have told me, how could I not go to Midgard? They do not realize what forces they might have drawn. There will come a time when they will need our aid.”

 

Loki smiled mischievously. “You shall leave me with the throne in order to play god to those humans?”

 

Thor shook his head in exasperation, but he did not disagree. “I mean to protect them. Even Father agrees I must go.”

 

Loki could say nothing to that.

 

“He believes I should bring it back, but…I would like to see, brother, if the humans are ready to wield such power as the Tesseract.”

 

 

Days without incident: 372.

 

Bruce breathed a sigh of relief each day that number went up.

 

 

Day 394.

 

Bruce had always been a hard worker. His parents had not been well off, as his father could barely hold down a job. After he had moved in with his aunt, he took part-time jobs in order to help out at home. This continued well into his college days, until he finally got his big break by landing the contract, which had supposedly been to find ways to prevent and treat radiation poisoning.

 

What a load of bullshit that had turned out to be.

 

On the run, Bruce had gotten used to doing odd jobs, in places where there were no questions asked. This usually meant working not only in factories or repair shops, but also restaurants where he had to wash dishes and even cook. He was proud to say he could now make a mean momo from scratch.

 

Things were going pretty well, he had to admit.

 

 

He was in Darjeeling on day number 402 when his luck ran out.

 

“He calls himself The Other.”

 

“Not the most flattering name, is it? Or the most creative,” Bruce commented lightly.

 

“Funny.” Agent Romanoff’s expression said she probably thought quite the opposite. To Bruce, Natasha Romanoff had a face that didn’t look like she found anything funny at all, really. Tilting her head, she said, “Stark said the same thing.”

 

“Stark. As in Tony Stark? You’re saying Iron Man works for SHIELD?”

 

“In a manner of speaking. He’s more of a consultant, really. But yes, you could say that.” Natasha hummed, hands folded in front of her. “That’s beside the point. The Other almost succeeded in taking the Tesseract, and now it’s been activated. In a few hours it’ll be emitting too much gamma radiation for any of our scientists to go near it. We need you to find a way to deactivate it, to close the gateway before something else comes through and causes global mass destruction.”

 

“And you telling me this is supposed to be—what, exactly? You ‘persuading’ me?”

 

“I’m just the messenger, Doctor.”

 

Bruce’s stance was absolute. “Then I’m afraid I have to reiterate: I refuse.”

 

“May I ask why? The world is at stake, after all.”

 

“What makes you think I ever cared for the world, Miss Romanoff?” She was dropping a bombshell on his shoulders; he could afford to be a little petty right now. Or no, he really couldn’t, because he still lived on Earth, after all. But he wasn’t going to make Agent Romanoff’s job easy for her.

 

“Doctor Banner, we know you lied to the military about your soulmate,” Natasha said in what seemed like a sudden change of topic. “You wouldn’t want him to suffer for your mistakes, would you?”

 

“What makes you think it’s a him?” Bruce smiled serenely, giving nothing away.

 

“Because I’ve met him. He’s very charming, your Thor Odinson.”

 

The blood drained from Bruce’s face.

 

 

“You dare chastise me when I alone was prepared for the attack? I had warned you—”

 

“—and I’m saying we appreciate that. But you caused about as much damage as ‘The Other’ that attacked us,” Fury pontificated. “Humans are more fragile than you Asgardians.”

 

Thor’s brow furrowed, but he did not interrupt.

 

“You go around waving that hammer of yours,” here he gestured at the cane clutched angrily in Thor’s fist, “—and people are going to get hurt. Good people, the people on our side.”

 

Thor had the decency to look abashed. “I...apologize. I did not mean to bring harm to anyone.”

 

Fury let out a breath through his nose. “Well, for the most part you didn’t. We got lucky this time. But enough about that; tell me more about this Other guy—what did you learn from Asgardian intel?”

 

“The Other is a being that serves some higher power, of which we know naught as of yet. As I have told you, the Tesseract has the power to open a portal to other realms, other parts of the universe.”

 

Fury raised an eyebrow.

 

Despite their differences, Thor thought quite highly of him. He had taken Thor’s arrival in stride, realizing it was foolish to attempt to restrain him, and calling off the agents that had tried. Thor had come to Midgard in order to protect its people, and no more.

 

He did not presume they would worship him as a god as their ancestors had before them. He had learned much about the advancements of their world through Heimdall and through Loki, who oft traveled to other realms. Although he rather suspected that his brother had exaggerated his knowledge of Midgard, he appreciated that Loki took interest in his soulmate.

 

He had asked his father, once, why very few people had soulmates from other realms. Odin had replied that fate was cruel in many ways, but never in this. Soulmates were not halves of the same whole; people’s souls were not fractured in that way. No, his father had said, for all the darkness in the universe, for all the hardships...love gives it meaning. Soulmates are a privilege that many take for granted. It is why so many unions end in heartbreak, for they know not how precious is the soul that they hold in their hands.

 

Thor would not make the same mistake.

 

His attention was brought back to the present when Fury pointedly asked, “I take it these doorways are different from the ones your Bifrost opens?”

 

“You are mistaken.” Perhaps he was revealing too much by saying this, but there needed to be trust between allies. “The Bifrost was built with the Tesseract’s power. Its doorways are not as—steady as the Tesseract’s portals. No...that is not entirely true; it is more accurate to say that they are not moored as precisely. The Bifrost is anchored on one end but not the other—that is why, if left open, it would wreak havoc on any realm at which it is aimed.”

 

Fury’s hackles rose. “So what you mean to say is that Asgard, if it were to choose to do so, could unleash that power on the Earth?”

 

Thor’s eyes flashed. “I implied nothing of the sort. We are at peace with your people—we would not mindlessly attack your realm if not given cause.”

 

“‘If not given cause’—just like we gave The Other cause to attack?”

 

“Of course you would attract those who seek war,” Thor said angrily. “You meant to build weapons with the Tesseract."

 

If Fury seethed with white-hot anger earlier, now his entire demeanor grew cold. “And who exactly told you that?”

 

“You take us for fools. The only reason we allowed you to harness its energy in that manner is so that you would be be prepared to face those who would take it from you.

 

“Excuse me, ‘allowed’ us?”

 

Thor ignored him. “The Tesseract’s power is usually steady, which means that the portal will not yield if it is unfolded correctly, on both sides. As it was forced open by The Other, it risks collapsing, which would mean releasing an immeasurable—and deadly—amount of energy. I must take it back to Asgard.”

 

“And I already told you: not gonna happen.”

 

Thor growled in anger and frustration. “None of you are equipped to face the damage it will unleash!”

 

Fury smiled, sharp and unforgiving. “That’s why we’re bringing in someone who is.”

 

 

“Doctor.” The agent had stepped down from the jet to greet him and inclined his head. “Agent Barton. I’m part of your security detail.”

 

Barton nodded at Romanoff, who guarded Bruce from the rear. His eyes spoke volumes in a language Bruce didn’t understand.

 

“If you’re ready.” Natasha gestured at the aircraft. “We should leave as soon as possible.”

 

The jet’s mechanism wasn’t as loud as a helicopter’s, but he could barely hear their words. Or maybe that was because of the sound of his heart pounding in his ears, it was difficult to tell.

 

Bruce had never been fond of flying, even before the accident. The idea of handing over control to someone and being thirty thousand feet up in the air had never been appealing to him, go figure.

 

At the agents’ insistence, he entered the aircraft and strapped himself in.

 

Bruce had good instincts. He had never liked Ross, not only because the man had outwardly expressed scorn for his friendship with Betty, but also because he had always seemed like he was hiding something. Still, he had been young and naive and desperate to make a change in the world, so he had ignored all the signs and worked for Ross anyway. After that, he vowed to never ignore his instincts again.

 

That was why, when they landed in an undisclosed location four hours later, he hesitated to leave the jet.

 

The doors opened to a flash of lightning and the roar of thunder outside.

 

Bruce saw the man coming at him, decked out in armor and a cape and holding—a hammer. He saw the man, and he knew.

 

He felt the fear, the anxiety, the sheer anger wash over him, and he lost himself in it.

 

 

Days without incident: 0.