Chapter 1: light and flickering
“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering.” — Bruce Lee
Trigger warning for child abuse and suicide attempt. Please don’t read if it’ll upset you. :(
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“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 shook his head, appearing unsure of what to say.
Thor frowned. “What is it?”
“This is no seidr, Thor. At least, not one cast by a mere 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 that of your beloved.”
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 other races healed as quickly as the Aesir. He contemplated 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.
For races as long-lived as the Aesir, it was not uncommon for those yet unbound to take on lovers. Thor has had many, and he treasured each of them so. He has always valued every single one of his partners, and would continue to do so for as long as he lived. Such is Thor; as a prince and the future king of Asgard, Thor always had plenty to give, plenty to share.
But even as he slept with them, Thor had known he would only ever make love to one person in his life. Thor shared most everything with the people of Asgard, but his heart belonged to his soulmate alone.
And now that he has found them, he would never again lie with another.
Thor shook himself out of his reverie, and focused on the task at hand.
Tracking spells did not work on soul bonds, that he knew. There was a simpler way to find his soulmate, however—and inwardly Thor cursed himself that he had not thought to try it sooner.
Thor sequestered himself in his study, gathering a quill and a well of ink. He put the quill to his forearm, writing the elegant runes of his name.
He waited. And waited. Thor needed to force himself to temper his impatience; it had only been a few hours, and his soulmate had likely not even seen the message yet.
Thor 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’d been 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, he considered a black eye an inconvenience at most, a stark reminder of his shame. 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, deciding 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 retrieve a quill to write with. He’d tried to communicate often over the past few years, but his soulmate never responded. He’d not thought to use 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 found a quill, the words had turned into a faint smudge. He panicked; he did not want his soulmate to believe he had ignored them.
Quickly, Thor wrote the sentence in a looping scrawl.
I am alright. This is nothing; it does not hurt.
Briefly, there was nothing, and Thor waited with bated breath.
After what seemed like an eternity, letters appeared slowly, the writing decidedly hesitant.
It looks like it hurts to me.
Can you erase your writing?
Thor frowned, and at once 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.
Nothing again, for a moment, and Thor honestly thought he’d scared his soulmate into silence. When the writing resumed again, he closed his eyes, immensely grateful. The feeling didn’t last long.
The words said,
My dad will get mad.
Thor clenched his fists.
Your father is the one who hits you? The reason you have bruises every day?
His soulmate erased their words again, and Thor stood to find a washcloth and do the same. He let out a breath, furious.
Trying to calm himself, something occurred to him. Thor wrote 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 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 was young and foolhardy. He quested with his party of friends, exploring worlds and frequently getting himself in and out of trouble.
He only recently discovered that the storm was his domain. Despite that, the people could not find it within themselves to be surprised. His powers manifested in strange ways—in light summer drizzles and chaotic hurricanes—still wild and untamed. His emotions rumbled in the air, plain for anyone to hear.
In Asgard’s eyes, he was merely a babe.
Thor had always been solidly built, but he has filled out in these past few years. He outgrew his tunics and armors more quickly than ever, and ate enough to satisfy a bilgesnipe.
Odin taught him how to be a warrior. He fought in countless battles, and immersed himself enough in them that, after a while, he could almost forget about the soulmate that did not want him.
Thor had a softness in his heart. He had the passion of the storm and knew only the limits of the sky. He remained full of hope, full of sentiment.
Thor did not hurt easily, because he had been taught not to. For years he soared higher and higher, certain that nothing could possibly bring him down.
After all, Thor was still a child.
Thor had bruises on his neck again. This time, the mark was an ugly purple bruise going 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 be alright.
Bruce sat in the emergency room with his aunt. He read the words on his wrist and cried.
And that's chapter one, folks! Hope you enjoyed it :)
Chapter 2: without losing love or respect
“We recognize a soulmate by the supreme level of comfort and security we feel with that person. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues that remain to be ironed out. Rather, it means we know intuitively that we can resolve issues with our soul mate without losing his or her love and respect.” — Linda Brady
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Bruce opened his messenger bag, pausing briefly. He shook his head fondly at what he found inside; he’d been doing that more and more lately, in the months since starting university. Bruce was surprised to realize that he was…happier.
He had friends now. Betty and him got on since the first class they shared together, and she’d 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 started to rain, and he felt a strange, unexplainable 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 all right during…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, Bruce wrote,
Bruce had been entertaining the idea that maybe his soulmate was from Scandinavia. When he was fifteen, he’d been 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’d always phrased things strangely. He had begun to think that they were censoring their words, as Bruce 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’d started to write once more, but Bruce cut them off with an,
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 didn’t want to 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’d 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’d 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. Things would be so much simpler; they were easy friends, and he loved her already.
In many ways, Thor still felt like 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’d always shown interest in whatever Bruce had to say. That made Bruce 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 all right. 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!
I got this chapter out pretty quickly—hopefully I can get the next one up soon!
Chapter 3: our unique complement
“A soulmate is an ongoing connection with another individual that the soul picks up again in various times and places over lifetimes. We are attracted to another person at a soul level not because that person is our unique complement, but because by being with that individual, we are somehow provided with an impetus to become whole ourselves.” — Edgar Cayce
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
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.”
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 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—
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.
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.
So! We see the effects the Hulk’s anger has on Thor (man it transcends realms!) But in case it wasn’t clear, what Thor’s feeling in this scene is not Bruce’s anger alone.
I’ve always thought of Hulk as a rage-filled being, but always reactively. He responds to outside threats and in many ways is the anger Bruce felt as a child.
Thor’s anger, the sheer violence within him, is not something that he was born with; instead, it was instilled in him by Odin and the culture of the Aesir. What is innate in Thor is not the desire to hurt others or to be cruel, it is the steadfast desire to make things right.
Of course, at this moment in time, what’s right to Thor may not be something that we consider the right thing to do. Perhaps that’ll change in the future? ;)
Chapter 4: out of even the hardest places
“If you do not believe that hearts can bloom suddenly bigger, and that love can open like a flower out of even the hardest places, then I am afraid that for you the road will be long and brown and barren, and you will have trouble finding the light. But if you do believe, then you already know all about magic." — Lauren Oliver
There is self-harm/a suicide attempt at the end of this chapter. There is also some medical experimentation, but it’s only mentioned and nothing graphic. Please tell me if I should tag it?
This is almost twice as long as the previous chapters. Enjoy! ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“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, 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.
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 a 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 Taiwanese 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!”
“…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.
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.
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.
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.
That pen scene has been in my head for *months*. I’m glad I was able to include it in this fic.
I try to keep my Thor and Bruce voices separate, and I’m not sure if that makes the fic feel—idk, disjointed somehow? Please, if you have any suggestions for ways I can improve my writing, tell me! I’d like to keep surprising you guys with new takes on the universe, and I’m trying to experiment with POV and stuff. I hope things aren’t getting too predictable!
Also, I was debating whether to put the Loki scene in this, because it would determine not only his character but the character arcs of the fic. This will still follow the MCU timeline, but I don’t think he’ll be the villain during the events of The Avengers. If it seems a little strange for him to be so buddy buddy with Thor, he has his reasons—which I might one day explore in a sidefic, but unfortunately not here. After all, this is a story about Thor and Bruce, not anyone else. ;D
Chapter 5: the emotional work
“A soulmate is the one person whose love is powerful enough to motivate you to meet your soul, to do the emotional work of self-discovery, of awakening.” — Kenny Loggins
Another long chapter, and very light. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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?”
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. With it, the earth shall never harm you. 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.”
Frigga hummed and drank the wine from her goblet.
Chapter 6: everything that is holding you back
“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soulmate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
The (mostly) single POV chapters end here.
Something very special happens at the end of this chapter… ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“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.
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 worked part-time 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.” Romanoff 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,” Romanoff 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 this ‘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.” Romanoff 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.
Chapter 7: not the product of intentional efforts
“A soulmate is someone to whom we feel profoundly connected, as though the communicating and communing that take place between us were not the product of intentional efforts, but rather a divine grace.” — Thomas Moore
AW YEAH IT’S HAPPENING
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
All Thor could think about was Bruce.
How dare they leave him with the Tesseract!
He was seething at the idea that they would use Bruce like this, how they would place him in harm’s way, at the fact that Fury saw him as naught but a tool in the same way the military did. He strode through the halls of SHIELD’s flying fort with the intention of finally seeing his soulmate with his own two eyes, but—he was not prepared. Nothing could be done about it now, but Thor still felt mixed emotions at this forced meeting.
Such was the reason for the tempest that brewed above him, clouds roiling in from all around, lightning striking in the distance. Thunder rumbled like the thoughts stewing in his head. He felt a great deal of anxiety at this, which was unusual for him, and it manifested in a tangible way.
The aircraft landed and he approached it in wide strides, eager to see his beloved.
Thor felt it before he saw anything, eyes flashing green. Then, he heard it—a raw and achingly human scream that turned into a loud roar.
His eyes widened.
The Hulk burst through the doors of the jet, and immediately he saw the man with the hammer. He felt a deep ache in his chest and hesitated, but quickly snapped out of it when he felt the telltale pinches hit his back.
Turning around, he saw the man aiming something sharp at him, and the woman—
He could smell her fear. She was holding those things that hurt. They always hurt Hulk.
There was a flash of light and a loud boom in the distance, and he felt fear. Nothing was stronger than the anger he felt in that moment, the instinct to protect .
“Stand down! ” The man with the hammer roared. “Bruce, we shall not harm you!”
He felt the rage overcome him and bellowed, “Hulk not puny Banner! ”
The storm roared louder.
There was a loud screech as Hulk tore a piece of metal from the jet and threw it at the sky.
“Tasha, it’s the storm. It’s agitating him.”
Hulk roared at the clouds and pounded his fists against his chest.
“Thor!” The man with the sharp stick barked. “Turn this shit down!”
The pain in Hulk’s chest flared. Banner was afraid. Afraid for the red woman, for the man with the pointy stick. He was afraid of Hulk—and afraid of the man with the hammer.
The man with the hammer stood there, paralyzed. It was a strange sight.
Hulk turned, but the red woman was too fast. She wrapped herself around his neck, and rammed a stick into his forehead.
There was a sharp tingling, and the Hulk was no more.
“Well, that was a disaster.”
“It was, though.”
Thor was inclined to agree with Barton, but he did not—could not—speak.
“Odinson. Again. What the hell was that shit show?”
Thor took a heavy breath, steeling himself to reply, but Barton cut him off.
“Aw, come on, Director. He just met his soulmate—what did you expect?”
Fury gave him a scathing look.
“Right.” Barton raised his eyebrows and, with pinched fingers, mimed a straight motion across his mouth.
Though his—Hulk’s earlier influence had ebbed away, Thor felt furious at himself. He had stood there and done nothing, and if what Barton had said was true then he had even exacerbated the problem.
Thor had seen the Hulk many times through Heimdall’s sight, and he knew he would not harm unless attacked. He had seemed so afraid, so confused by everything happening around him.
In that moment, Hulk had looked like a child, lashing out because he could not understand. It had been difficult to marry that image with the strong adult Bruce was.
Now, with Bruce wrapped in a blanket in the SHIELD medical bay, hardships showing through the lines of his face, Thor could understand.
On the bed, Bruce stirred.
Eyes still closed, Bruce furrowed his brow. He had a massive headache, the kind of which he only got when—
He shot up straight, and froze as he came face to face with an armored chest.
Slowly, he looked up and stared into the softest blue eyes he had ever seen.
Then the man raised his hand as if to touch him, and the moment was ruined as Bruce flinched.
“…I’m sorry, I’m just a little…yeah.”
The man—Thor, Bruce reminded himself—said nothing.
“I’m just not used to people touching me. Sorry.”
They were alone in the room, and Bruce found himself unable to say anything for a long time.
Suddenly everything was too much, and Bruce felt hysterical laughter threaten to overcome him. He let out a shaky breath, laying his head in his hands, unable to look at his soulmate any longer.
“I’ve been such a fool, haven’t I?”
Thor made a sound in his throat and Bruce couldn’t tell if it was frustrated or angry or just—done.
He didn’t know this man at all.
“I do not understand…why are you upset?”
This time Bruce allowed the hysteria to show. He looked at Thor, upset and incredulous. “Why am I—? God, you saw what I am!
“And you—you’re not even…” Bruce shook his head in sharp, jerky motions. “What are you?”
Thor hesitated, looking hurt and distressed but Bruce didn’t care. “I am of Asgard, a different realm. Your…some of the people I have met here call me an alien. And Bruce, I—I have known about your transformations for a while now.”
Bruce wanted to grab and shake him until things made sense again. His face crumpled in distress and he snapped, “And that doesn’t seem at all fucked up to you? That everything we had was based on lies? ”
Thor was struggling with what to say. “I have never lied to you—”
Bruce didn’t even know why he was so upset. He was frustrated because he didn’t understand what was going on; he had been trying to protect his soulmate, who apparently didn’t need protection; but most of all, he didn’t know this man .
Maybe he was overreacting, but after nearly a decade of coming to terms with the fact that he could never meet his soulmate, that he could never possibly have anything resembling happiness, being confronted with something like this was—jarring, to say the least.
He should be happy. His soulmate had seen the Hulk and survived , but more than that Thor had apparently known about him for years and not cared .
How was that even possible? So, apparently Thor had been watching over him like some bizarre guardian angel and had just…not told him. But that wasn’t right, was it? No, he wasn’t an angel —
He thought of the vague impressions he got from the Hulk during the transformation, and remembered; the storm, somehow…Thor was responsible for it.
“You—you’re really him, aren’t you? ‘The god of thunder’?”
Thor hesitated, and briefly Bruce was annoyed at being treated so delicately.
“Yes, your people have called me that.”
Bruce deflated, and all the anger seemed to leave him.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath. He may have panicked for a while, may have let himself get too worked up, and now he had to get it together.
He had let the Hulk come out, and honestly he was surprised he wasn’t in a cell right now. He couldn’t let himself forget—he was still at SHIELD, surrounded by people he couldn’t trust. This changed nothing.
He was, as always, still alone.
“Well, Director Fury, I’m here now. Tell me, am I going to be detained? Because—that’s not going to turn out well, trust me.”
“Detain you? For that earlier outburst? You bet your ass I should,” Fury said.
Yeah, Bruce didn’t know what else he had expected.
“But seeing as you look somewhat repentant for scaring my agents shitless, I’ll let you off with a warning.”
Bruce couldn’t get enough of this.
Then, to put the cherry on top, who else should come strolling in but Tony Stark himself?
Bruce felt the beginnings of a migraine behind his eyes. He pinched the bridge of his nose.
Immediately Stark made a beeline for Bruce like he was the only other person in the room.
“Doctor Banner! I’m a huge fan,” Stark said, and surprisingly looked like he meant it.
Tony Stark was as brilliant as the stories made him out to be. The media had sometimes insinuated that his reputation was exaggerated, that there was no possible way genius like that existed.
Two minutes with the man and Bruce knew they were all wrong.
Once Fury had left them to work on deactivating the Tesseract, Stark started with the hard hitting questions.
“So, any chance I’ll get to meet your little friend anytime soon? Well, after we save the world from impending doom. That should come first, I’ve been told.”
“It’s…been a long day. I’ve had one ‘Hulk out’ already and I’d rather not repeat the experience, thank you,” Bruce said, and he looked as though saying the term pained him a great deal.
Stark looked at him with eyes that understood far too well. “Sometimes you don’t get a choice, you know.”
Bruce couldn’t meet that look. Stark’s rawness discomfited him, like he was pouring salt over an open wound. Bruce swallowed. “Yeah. I know.”
Stark was fast, firing quip after quip interspersed with some quick deductions and sharp-eyed observations. But he was serious when he needed to be, somber even. It was…refreshing, that in order to be a match for this man Bruce had to be incredibly quick on his feet.
Bruce had never expressed this outwardly, but it was draining, being around people that didn’t think like him. Looking at Stark was like looking in a mirror. He saw—not someone he could have been, no, Bruce would never have such charisma as that—it was like seeing some distorted version of himself that didn’t have to pretend to be anything he wasn’t.
He was struck with the thought that this was the way he was supposed to feel with his soulmate, not with a stranger he just met.
But then again, Bruce thought bitterly, what was the difference?
Questions: why does Hulk know what a hammer is, but not a bow? Can an electric shock from Hawkeye’s arrow really knock him out? Why can neither Bruce nor Thor catch a break? We just don’t know. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I’ve decided to make this a series, with this fic ending at the events of the Avengers because it makes more sense in terms of their character arcs I think. This chapter was mostly centered on Bruce, while the next one should be mainly about Thor.
Also, there are probably only a few chapters left. D:
Chapter 8: in silent unspeakable memories
“What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life…to strengthen each other…to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories.” — George Eliot
Sorry this took forever! Hope you guys are still interested in reading this. >.<
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So what are you thinking, Doctor Compton?” Stark was fiddling with a screen, looking bored as he waited for his A.I. to finish hacking SHIELD, which—was apparently a thing, now.
Bruce sighed and removed his glasses, rubbing at his temples. He looked tired, and about ten years older. “I think that the key to deactivating the Tesseract is gamma radiation. But according to my calculations—and I ran the simulations enough times to be sure—we would need a thousand TeV to do it.”
“Okay. Let’s do it.”
Bruce stared at him. “A thousand tera electron Volts, Tony. That’s a million times more eV than what nuclear reactors produce. It’s not possible.”
“It must be, if that’s how much it’ll take to disable the thing. Something had to able the thing, after all.”
Well, Stark had a point.
“Even if we could make a gamma ray powerful enough to generate that much energy, we would literally be committing mass murder.”
“Then we’ll find a way to contain it.”
“Oh, I’ll be glad to leave that part up to you. I’m sure one of your iron suits would do the trick.”
The banter was getting a bit ridiculous, but even Bruce could admit he was enjoying it a little.
Relaxed and distracted, Bruce accidentally let the sensor in his hand touch the Tesseract. As soon as the tip of the device entered the matrix, it disintegrated. Bruce dropped the tool immediately and the remaining bit burned a hole through the counter.
He and Stark made eye contact and Bruce knew they were thinking the same thing. Radiation damage.
But the amount of energy it would take to compromise radiation hardened metal that quickly…
The thought was suddenly cut off by the alarming beeping that came from the computer. Bruce looked up at the screen and thought, Fuck.
“Tony. Something’s wrong. The Tesseract’s readings are spiking.”
Stark cursed, and sprinted over to Bruce’s station. “Talk to me, Banner.”
“It’s—it’s radioactive. You have to leave, now.”
Stark practically scoffed. “I’m not just going to leave you alone.”
“It’s not safe for you here.”
“And it is for you?”
Bruce resisted the urge to sigh again in irritation. There was no time. “I’m a gamma battery, Tony. Radiation can’t harm me.”
“Still, screw that. We’re figuring this out together—”
The Tesseract flashed, and Stark grabbed Bruce, shoving him behind the opposite counter.
Even crouching behind the table, they had to shield their eyes from the immensely bright light that the Tesseract was emitting. Five seconds later and the light dimmed.
Standing in the middle of the room, in front of the Tesseract was The Other.
Thor cursed as the lights flickered. He felt the energy surge and the Tesseract was like a beacon, reaching out to him from Bruce’s lab all the way across the helicarrier.
He rushed down the hallways, calling Mjolnir to him. Thor felt the static rush through her handle, calling for blood. He knew exactly who had arrived.
As he turned a corner, he almost collided with another man, dressed in civilian clothing. He was no agent of SHIELD, that was certain.
“No time,” the man cut him off. His jaw was set, and immediately Thor recognized him as a leader, a fellow warrior. “—we have to get to the cube.”
Thor did not need to be told twice. The man took wide strides moving ahead, and Thor let him.
Less than a minute later, they had arrived at the lab. The man pulled the shield off his back in one fluid motion and stormed the room.
The first thing to draw Thor’s attention was the Tesseract—it was giving off more energy than it had been before, its light brighter than ever.
Thor didn’t see him at first, view obscured by a counter. But then the figure hunched over straightened, and suddenly Thor and the man with the shield were confronted by who else but The Other.
The being was cloaked, eyes hooded from view. He had on heavy armor and there was a mask covering his face. Thor saw that it did nothing to cover his blood-red smile, lips twisted in a vicious grin. But the most noteworthy thing about him was the scepter clutched in his alien hands.
Thor had faced him and that scepter before, when The Other had tried to steal the Tesseract the first time. He had caused many an unexplainable injury, agents dropping to the ground like flies. The creature was a formidable foe because of his weapon, though Thor had prevailed over him then.
As he would now.
The Other wasted no time, firing an energy beam at him. While Thor quickly moved aside, the man with the shield went to cover him, stepping in the way of the bright light.
“Wait—!” Thor called, but his words were in vain. For the blast had not disintegrated the shield as expected, but instead ricocheted and—hit The Other in the chest.
That was...most fortunate.
Seeing an opportunity, Thor threw his hammer at the being, who dodged although he did not have much room in the small space.
Distracted, The Other could not fight off the man with the shield, who had closed the scant few meters separating them. They parried, metal clanging against metal, exchanging blows in between.
Thor grinned savagely, and crouched.
In an instant, The Other crumpled to the ground, right leg shattered as Mjolnir grazed it.
Thor grasped Mjolnir in his hand again, having called her back to him. He made sure not to maim the creature, as he was not sure how much damage The Other could take. They needed him alive.
The Other was writhing on the ground and the man made to grab him, but then—
An arrow shot out from nowhere and, upon impact, a thick foam was released and trapped The Other, immobilizing him.
Barton dropped from a vent in the ceiling with the precision of an experienced warrior. He crossed the room in a fast pace, but instead of examining his work, he knelt behind the counter The Other had appeared behind.
Thor’s heart sank as the realization came to him.
“They’re alive, but unconscious,” Barton said.
The man with the shield was talking, but Thor did not hear his words.
In naught but a few quick strides, Thor was behind the counter.
Two figures were sprawled on the ground, but Thor only cared for one.
He had not been fast enough to save Bruce.
“Don’t worry. This is what Agent Romanoff does best.”
That was Barton. Thor was standing across where he sat at the table, watching Romanoff on one of the small screens. Barton and Rogers—as the man with the shield had introduced himself—looked at the same view with intent gazes.
Romanoff sat patiently outside the glass cage as she waited for The Other to regain consciousness.
“We are wasting time,” Thor said angrily. “You cannot expect me to just stand here doing nothing. We do not know what he has done to them, and the longer they stay in that state the more danger they’re in.”
“We don’t know that for sure,” said Rogers in a reasonable tone. Thor did not care for his calm demeanor.
Fortunately for everyone on the aircraft, the Tesseract seemed to calm in proximity with the scepter. Thor suspected that this was due to their similar energies, the same way Loki’s magic grew more stable when working in tandem with their mother’s.
Thinking of them made Thor even more impatient. He had argued with Fury for a long time, insisting that he bring the Tesseract and the scepter back to Asgard, along with Stark and Bruce.
“Odinson, you should know by now that there is no way in hell am I gonna let you do that,” Fury had said, not even sparing him a glance.
Barton, Rogers and Romanoff had agreed with him—Thor was outnumbered. He did not want to take them by force, as he did not want to instigate a fight, but the longer he waited for Bruce to wake up the more he started to reconsider it.
The only thing stopping him now was the thought that Bruce would never forgive him if the Bifrost tore through the helicarrier and all that implied.
Bruce and Stark were in the med bay, all the way across the fort. Another screen was devoted to them, and Hill stood in the room, arms crossed—a steadfast sentry if Thor ever saw one.
It was not that he didn’t believe in the abilities of these humans; he had seen them in action and had witnessed their competence. But he did not trust any one of them with Bruce’s life.
Letting out a breath, Thor had to calm himself. There was nothing to be done now.
It seemed that he did not have to wait long, for The Other had awoken soon after. Romanoff watched their prisoner calmly behind the glass.
“What have you done to Stark and Banner?”
The Other sneered, cruel lines carved deep into his face. “Are those their names? All you humans are the same to me.”
“Please, address the question.”
Thor grit his teeth. This is what they had been reduced to—puppets, who could do nothing in the face of one with all the answers.
“It does not matter,” he said. “They are but casualties in this war.”
“Is that what this is supposed to be? A war?” Romanoff asked. “Excuse me for saying this, but one soldier facing a whole armada doesn’t exactly inspire fear.”
“You are a fool. You know not the power you face.”
“And you are getting away from the point,” she intoned. “Tell me about Stark and Banner.”
From the bridge, Thor frowned at the screen doubtfully. Thor could not deny that he could be brutal at times, and currently it seemed that they would be better served by means more…violent. Perhaps trusting Romanoff with this task was not the right call.
Barton seemed to hear his thoughts. He addressed him without looking up. “Just wait.”
The Other laughed, and it was an ugly, mocking sound. “They sent a little girl to do a man’s job. Pain would be a much better spur, but even then I would never break.”
“Hm. I don’t know about that—Thor did a pretty good job shattering your leg. I don’t know anything about alien physiology, but it’s pretty difficult to recover from that.” She gestured at the bloody mess of a limb.
“This? Is nothing compared to the horrors you are about to face.”
“I’ve had enough of this. Clearly you’re nothing but a pawn in the grand scheme of things—you can tell me nothing because you know nothing.”
The Other growled. “You are the ones who do not know! The ones without power. Those two fell to the might of the stone in an instant. The rest of you shall follow.”
Thor’s hands clenched at his sides. The stone, he said. The scepter contained a gem that could disarm Hulk. What did that entail?
Romanoff raised an eyebrow, crossing her arms. “The way I see it, you just handed us your most powerful weapon. The scepter is ours, and so is the Tesseract. You’re in a tight spot, Other.”
From where The Other was seated in the glass cage, Thor could see the confidence in his stance. He was injured, he had lost his only weapon, and they had what he desired—that much was clear. Then why was it that he seemed so sure of himself?
“Your race is weak. Any strengths you may have crumble beneath your insecurities. None of your minds can handle the scepter’s might, of this I am certain.”
“We’ll see about that. If someone like you could use the scepter, then it should be easy enough to reverse its effects.”
“You truly are a fool. Touch that scepter and you will fall into the void yourself.” The Other smirked. “The human mind is a fragile thing, isn’t it? Give it a tap, and it fractures. They will be trapped in there forever.”
Thor thought that Romanoff had been still before. Now everything in her expression melted away, and it seemed as though she were made of stone. “So that’s why the Hulk didn’t come out.”
The Other frowned, the first sign of weakness he had shown. Thor realized in that moment that The Other hadn’t known who he was dealing with.
Neither did Thor, it seemed.
“You trapped them in their minds, the Hulk’s along with Banner’s.”
The Other’s lips curled downwards, and it was obvious he had lost his momentum. The conversation was now in Romanoff’s favor—or, perhaps, it had always been so.
She turned on her heel, and began to walk away.
But The Other was not finished. He called out to her, “It does not matter! You will never get them back. They will rot in their memories forever.”
She paused, and seemed to catch herself. Romanoff turned slowly and, when she faced him, said, “I apologize, but that will not be the case.”
Thor had now seen what a force Romanoff was to be reckoned with.
“Thank you for your cooperation.”
The realization had come upon them at the same time. Rogers stood up quickly, and nodded at Thor. Fury let out a breath.
Thor said to him, “If the scepter is what The Other used to make Bruce and Stark retreat into their minds, then it must be what will restore them. You must allow me to use it to bring him back.”
“I am not letting you use that weapon when we don’t know the risks. Worst case scenario, we lose you, too. The Other spoke about an army—if what he’s saying is true, then we’ll need all the help we can get.”
“With all due respect, Director Fury, you just lost two of your heaviest hitters. Besides, we need Stark and Banner to deactivate the cube—it’s a ticking time bomb as it is,” Barton cut in.
“I agree with Thor and Agent Barton. Now that The Other is subdued, our greatest priority is deactivating the Tesseract. None of us can hope to do that without Stark or Dr. Banner.”
Fury gritted his teeth. “We have Dr. Selvig. He can help stabilize the cube for now.”
“‘For now’?” Barton raised his eyebrows. “So you agree then, Director, that it would be like slapping a bandaid on a severed artery? Those readings were off the charts. Even Selvig knew this was beyond him.”
“Watch yourself, Agent.”
But Barton did not back down. “Sir. This is, quite literally, magic. Isn’t the guy who can use magic our best bet in this case?”
Still, Fury looked unimpressed. “And what do you propose we do with the scepter in the first place? It didn’t exactly come with a manual.”
He had addressed all of them, but it was Romanoff who answered as she entered the bridge. “Thor should be the one to use it.”
She looked at Thor then, gaze unwavering. He looked back at her, trying to ascertain her intentions.
“And why is that?”
She answered Fury without looking away. “Because he has the most to lose. You can’t afford to make a mistake, can you, Odinson.”
It wasn’t a question. He suspected it was a threat, even.
“So. Will you? Make a mistake, I mean.”
Thor truly thought about it, gaze flitting to a spot behind her. He closed his eyes.
All the possibilities flitted through his mind—one misstep, and he would lose Bruce, forever. Do nothing, and Thor would lose him anyway. Was there even any question?
When he opened them again, there was no hesitation whatsoever.
“Take me to the scepter.”
It’s coming you guys!! The next chapter’s my favorite (even though it, uhhh, hasn’t been written yet).