Bruce has been out in the wilderness for four days when they finally find him, and spends the next immobilised in a hospital bed; he can’t even feel his skin until it’s been six days since he Hulked out, and even then it feels like paper. Some of the Avengers visit, but he’s out of it for a while for reasons he can’t explain except for just the abject exhaustion . When he’s conscious - really conscious - he asks for Thor. People keep telling him that Thor is away. Bruce persists.
He’s not sure what day it is, just that his throat is killing him, when Clint visits and brings a book. Bruce has spent most of his time sleeping thus far, so it’s a welcome reprieve.
“Laura said she thought you’d like this one,” Clint says, dropping it onto Bruce’s bedside table. “She’s got good taste. I trust her.”
“Tell her I said thanks,” Bruce says through the wheeze of his tortured throat.
“And I got you this milkshake. You sound like shit, buddy.”
“I feel like shit. Thanks. Don’t tell the nurse.”
Bruce sits up, pulling himself into a cross-legged position to drink Clint’s choice of chocolate milkshake; Clint tells him about what’s been happening while he’s in the hospital. It’s mostly clean-up and relief efforts, and a lot of napping at odd times of the day, and a lot of free food. Bruce misses that free food, the pat on the back that helped to assuage his immense guilt over everything he’d destroyed, the week where he gets to pretend that he did something good and wasn’t a danger to everybody’s lives.
Then again, there isn’t a lot of time to think about it when he’s spaced out, so there’s that, too.
“You doing okay?” Clint asks, just before he leaves. “I know you’ve got your problems. Don’t wanna leave you to struggle on your own, especially since Thor’s away.”
“I’m okay,” Bruce assures him. “But if there’s any room back at the farmstead, I could use some more rest once I get out.” He smiles. Clint nods.
“There’s always room for a friend,” he says.
Bruce does have to take himself up on his own offer, and moves into Clint’s spare room after he’s discharged. Tony doesn’t mind: Bruce’s rap sheet of medical conditions was a mile long (unfortunately, the Hulk isn’t greatly helpful when he’s not around), and Tony’s life is still full of press conferences, government meetings, discussing the general chaos of the battle, et cetera. It probably doesn’t matter to him right now who’s staying in the Facility and who isn’t. Bruce thinks Tony needs the space, too.
Laura lends Bruce a good handful of her books, and he alternates between spending time in his room and helping out on the farm and with the kids. He usually doesn’t get along with children, but the Bartons seem to have been primed not to be in any way rude or abrasive around him, and so it’s fine. They don’t bother him. It’s nice. He asks Clint about Thor, again, and Clint makes that face and says he’s sorry but he isn’t sure where Thor is right now.
“That’s okay,” Bruce says. “Just wondering.”
“I’m sorry about him.”
“He’ll have a reason. I just wish I knew when he was coming back, you know?”
Clint grins. “I’m sure Laura knows that feeling. Comes with the territory.”
“Worse when you’re both superheroes, I guess.”
“You like him a lot, huh?”
“Yeah.” Bruce tugs down the sleeves of his sweater; it’s not exactly warm out here, and so he’s taken to wearing heavy sweaters that he disappears inside of. “When we were on Sakaar… I realised that he liked me for me, not for the Hulk. I didn’t think he even noticed me, but he was constantly looking out for me when we were there, and then on the ship.” Bruce smiles a little. “I didn’t even know it was possible to love someone this much. It’s kinda stupid, but…”
“I’m literally married,” Clint says. “I know that feeling.”
Bruce laughs. “Yeah. I just want to see him again soon.”
He looks out the window that night, and wonders where amongst the glitter of stars Thor is tonight; and what the view looks like from there.
Bruce has been moved back to the Facility by the time Thor finally arrives: the storm indicating his presence is making it hard for Bruce’s post-pneumonia lungs to breathe, and so Clint drives him back to the Facility, where Steve and Sam and Bucky are eating takeout in the kitchen and Tony is on the phone to somebody and sounding increasingly exasperated. It’s not as calm as Clint’s place, but-
He sits with his books in the comfort of his own bedroom; Steve had offered him some pizza on his way past, so he has that, too, and he watches the endless drizzle of rain against his windows, wondering if it’s the weather or Thor. Every time he hears the rumble of thunder he feels the stirring of excitement in his chest.
He starts as he hears knocking at his balcony door, but…
Well, he’s not that surprised.
He grins as he lets Thor in from the cold; Thor bustles past him, setting about the time-consuming process of removing his armour. Bruce has a whole drawer dedicated to Thor’s clothes, the same way Thor has one for his, and once Thor has patted himself dry with a towel, Bruce presses the fresh clothes into his hands with a smile. Thor leans down to kiss his forehead.
“I missed you,” Bruce says softly. “I’m glad you’re back.”
“So am I,” Thor says with one of those hearty laughs that sets Bruce’s heart aflutter, even after all this time. He pulls on his trousers, first, and then Bruce has him in a hug before he can put on a shirt, burying his face in the crook of Thor’s neck. Thor isn’t warm , exactly, but he’s comfortable, familiar: he’s the smell of the tension in the air before the lightning strikes and of the rain against the grass. One of Bruce’s thumbs runs circles across the rough of Thor’s top surgery scars. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here. Rogers says you took ill.”
“I was in the hospital for a bit,” Bruce says, stepping back to let Thor finish dressing. “The big guy got lost in the wilderness and it took Tony a while to find me again. I got pneumonia. My lungs aren’t so good right now.”
“But you’re alright?”
“Mhm. I’m just recovering.”
Thor nods, and he runs a hand through Bruce’s curls. “Bruce,” he says softly. “I love you.”
Bruce smiles. “I love you, too.”
Thor puts a finger under his chin and tilts his head up, kissing him softly: Thor’s lips are chapped and war-worn as usual, but Bruce doesn’t know if he’d have them any other way, and his kiss is gentle and longing. God, Bruce has missed him so much, missed the feeling of Thor’s arms around him, the strength of his presence in the room, the kindness of his smile.
Bruce had never really felt at home anywhere before. Not in any place, not with any people.
But here, in this facility, surrounded by his closest friends and with his boyfriend, Bruce has never felt as safe. It doesn’t matter that his chest hurts, that he’s been tired for weeks and that his throat is sore in the mornings and that he’s starting to feel like he’s a little too old to be an Avenger - because he’s here , and now, so is Thor.