SUMMARY: It's movie night in Avengers Tower. Tropes, tropes everywhere.
RATING: PG-13 (for swears)
WARNINGS: This chapter contains MAJOR SPOILERS for THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. If you have not seen the movie... well, a) What is wrong with you??? and b) Go out and watch that shit right now. I'm serious. Go. I'll wait. You're back? You say you've seen it now? Okay, good. Carry on.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Good news: I've written all the way through to the beginning of chapter eight, which I think is going to be the last chapter. Unless the story has other ideas. You never know. But hey, the end is nigh!
“Yet we have given no account of the dynamical processes by which that circulation is generated when the aerofoil starts from a state of rest. It arises, in fact, in response to the starting vortex … but why this should be so is far from obvious, and rests on one of the deepest theorems in the subject.”
Bruce looked up when he heard the the ding of the elevator down the hall, expecting to see Tony. It wasn’t Tony who walked in the door. It was Captain America.
“So this is where you’ve been hiding,” Steve Rogers said genially as he wandered into the lab.
“Did Tony rat me out or did Pepper?” Bruce asked. This level was supposed to be completely secure; Tony and Pepper were the only ones with the access code for the elevator, besides Bruce himself, and they had assured him they’d keep it that way. Even the custodial staff weren’t allowed down here without Bruce’s invitation. He supposed he should have known it was too good to last.
“Tony,” Steve said sheepishly. “You don’t really think Miss Potts would—”
“No, it was a stupid question.” Bruce capped his pen and tossed it onto the desk. The calculations he’d been working on were a wash; he was going to have to start over from scratch after Steve left.
“Seems like a nice setup,” Steve observed. “A little lonely, maybe, but I guess that doesn’t bother you much.”
“So is this the next step in Tony’s plan?” Bruce asked irritably. “Lull me into a sense of complacency and then send you in to sucker punch me with the recruitment speech?”
It was actually a pretty brilliant plan. This was Captain America, after all, the Star-Spangled Man himself: a bonafide national treasure. He was practically a walking recruitment poster. Just seeing him walking down the street with his steely jaw and his upright posture was probably enough to inspire people to spontaneously join up for the armed forces.
Steve’s smile was surprisingly bitter. “I don’t give recruitment speeches anymore. And I’m the one that asked Tony where I could find you. I’m sorry if I’m interrupting your solitude.”
“Okay,” Bruce said, slightly mollified. “What’s the occasion, then?”
“I need some advice,” Steve said.
Bruce snorted. “From me? Surely there are better places you can turn.”
“You’re one of the smartest guys I know, Dr. Banner.”
“Tony’s part of the problem.”
“Well,” Bruce said. “I guess that shines a new light on things. You want some tea?”
“I’d love some, thanks.”
Bruce filled up the electric kettle and got two Stark Industries mugs out of the cabinet. There was nothing personal in the lab, nothing that really belonged to him. He’d brought no possessions with him; everything here, including the clothes on his back, had been acquired through Stark Industries channels. He opened the tin of honeybush tea he’d requisitioned and scooped some into each mug. Then he turned back to Steve, leaned against the counter, and waited.
Steve had perched himself on one of the lab stools. He looked a bit like a giant balancing on a piece of child’s furniture. He also looked troubled. “The team’s not cohering like they should,” he said. “I can’t get anyone to work together, they’re constantly at each other’s throats. Most of them can’t stand each other.”
Bruce suppressed the urge to smile. “That’s not exactly a surprise, is it?”
Steve sighed. “I guess not. I don’t know what to do about it, though.”
“You do realize getting along with other people isn’t exactly one of my strong suits, right?”
“Sometimes articulating a problem can be enough to help you find your way to the solution,” Steve said. “And you’re really the only one I can talk to.”
For the first time, it occurred to Bruce that Captain America, living legend, might be just as lonely as he was. He turned back to the kettle, which had reached a boil. “Have you tried talking to Tony? He is capable of being reasonable on rare occasions.”
“I’ve talked to him. He thinks this movie night is the solution.”
“I take it you don’t agree?”
“No, probably not.” Bruce handed Steve a mug of tea and retreated back to the chair at his own desk. “What about some sort of group training exercises? I assume that’s the sort of thing they’d do in the military.”
“I’ve tried it and it was an unmitigated disaster. No one would listen or follow orders, everyone just ended up fighting amongst themselves.” Steve sniffed the tea experimentally and then tried a small sip. He nodded in appreciation.
Bruce blew gently on the surface of his own tea. “You led the sessions?”
Steve glanced up. “Yes. Shouldn’t I have?”
Bruce shrugged. “You’re a natural leader, obviously. But I’m not sure the others are natural followers. They’re used to working on their own, for the most part.”
“There’s got to be a command structure if we’re going to function effectively in the field,” Steve said, frowning. “Every man for himself gets people killed.”
“No question. But you’re dealing with some pretty strong personalities with uniquely specialized skills and experience. I’m just saying a blanket approach may not be the most effective.”
Steve nodded thoughtfully. “So I should try to harness each individual’s expertise? Maybe even let them each take a turn leading the training sessions.”
Bruce shrugged again. “It’s really not my area.”
“That could work.” Steve looked up and smiled, flashing a mouthful of teeth so straight and white they practically sparkled like in those old toothpaste commercials. “Thank you Dr. Banner, you’ve been very helpful. I think you’re much better with people than you give yourself credit for.”
“You can call me Bruce. And I don’t think I was much help.” He paused. “But you’re welcome.” He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and he fished it out, frowning at the screen.
“Everything okay?” Steve asked.
Bruce nodded. “It’s just a text from Natasha, asking if I’m coming to movie night.” He slipped the phone back into his pocket without typing a reply.
Steve nodded silently, looking at him. “You should come,” he said after a moment. “You might surprise yourself and have a good time.”
“I hope you have prepared yourselves, because what you are about to witness is a bonafide cinematic masterpiece,” Tony announced, brandishing the Blu-ray case with a theatrical flourish. “I hold in my hand the greatest film of our time.”
“You might be overselling this a bit,” Clint said, draping his arm around Natasha. The screening area was one great big u-shaped leather sectional and they’d all arrayed themselves around it, burrowing deep into the plump cushions. The coffee table was laid out with a rich assortment of candy and two giant bowls of popcorn in honor of the occasion.
“Impossible,” Tony scoffed as he slipped the disc into the player.
“I have watched several of your Midgardian moving pictureshows with Jane,” Thor said. “I enjoyed the Star Wars very much. The one about the foolish hungover men with the baby was not as much to my liking.”
“Don’t worry, big guy, this one’s gonna be right up your alley,” Tony assured him.
“Dr. Banner!” Thor hailed as Bruce wandered in. “It has been too long, my friend!”
“Hey, Thor,” Bruce said, smiling faintly. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Nonsense,” Tony said, navigating through the DVD menu. “You’re just in time. You remember Barton, I assume?”
Bruce nodded. “How’s it going?”
“Everyone budge over so our friend Dr. Banner can sit down,” Tony ordered, waving his hand imperiously.
Natasha shoved Clint towards Steve and scooted over after him so there was room for Bruce to sit down. “I didn’t think you were coming,” she told him.
He shrugged. “It’s really good movie.”
“All right,” Tony said, dropping into the space they’d left him on the other side of Bruce. “Everyone’s settled, yes? Let’s watch this bitch.” He started the movie.
“This is a Stephen King story?” Natasha said when she saw his name in the opening credits. “Are there going be murderous cars? Murderous dogs? Murderous teenagers?” She was a fan horror movies; this might be more fun than she’d expected.
“It’s about geology,” Bruce said. “The study of pressure and time.”
“That sounds less fun,” she said, disappointed.
“Shush and watch the movie,” Tony said.
They watched the movie.
“This movie is extremely sad,” Steve said at the end of the first half hour.
“Just wait,” Clint told him.
When they got to the part where Brooks set his pet crow free, Natasha heard Tony sniffle.
After Brooks hanged himself she glanced over at Steve and saw tears rolling openly down his face. She decided that Stark was a sadistic bastard who was going to need some punishment.
When the warden had Tommy killed Thor cried out in anguish.
As Andy was describing the Pacific Ocean to Red, she caught Clint swiping at his eyes. She leaned into him a little more and felt his arm tighten around her.
When Andy climbed out of the sewer and raised his arms to the lightning-streaked sky, Thor jumped up and cheered in triumph.
“Down in front,” Steve muttered, and Thor sat back down.
By the time Andy and Red were reunited on the beach in Zihuatanejo there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, except for Bruce. His eyes were fixed on the screen, his lips pressed into a thin line and his expression impenetrable.
No one spoke until the credits had finished rolling and the DVD menu came up.
“Well?” Tony asked, turning to survey them all. “Did I oversell it?”
“No,” Steve said, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief he’d pulled out of his pocket. “Definitely not.”
“This movie,” Thor said, his voice heavy with emotion. “I love this movie with all my heart. I’ve never before been so moved by playacting.”
“You know, I remember it being good,” Clint said. “But I’d forgotten just how good.”
“It’s exactly as good as I remembered,” Bruce said quietly.
Tony eyed Natasha. “Well, Romanoff? What’d you think?”
Natasha had changed her mind about Stark. He was still a sadistic bastard, but it had been an ingenious choice of movie. Not just because it was good, or because it was about a disparate group of people bonding in the face of adversity, but because there was something in it that spoke to each and every one one of them in a different way.
For Steve, it had reflected his own struggles as a man adrift, out of time and place. For Thor, it was a straightforward story of right triumphing over injustice. For Clint, it was about redemption and forgiveness. And for Bruce, it was just like he’d said: a study of the effects of pressure and time on a man. As for Natasha, she had found herself oddly moved by the small moments of joy amidst hopelessness, in a way that dredged up some not-entirely-unpleasant memories.
She shrugged. “It was all right.” Because recognizing that Tony Stark was right and admitting it out loud were two completely different things.
Clint snorted. “That means she loved it.”
“So,” Tony said, clapping his hands. “We’re on again for next Friday night, yes? Feel free to text me your nominations for the furtherance of Steve and Thor’s cinematic education. I’m open to any genre.”
“Except pornography,” Steve interjected.
“Including pornography,” Tony corrected. “Also, we’re going to have another training session tomorrow, and this one is going to go better than the last two.”
“How do you figure that?” Natasha asked.
“Because this time we are all going to pull together and act like grown-ups for a change.” He held up his hands in a pacifying gesture. “Yes, yes, including me. Shocking, I know, but if I can make the sacrifice we all can. Let’s do this for Red, people.”
“You understand he’s a fictional character, right?” Natasha said.
Tony tapped the arc reactor in his chest and said, with absolute seriousness, “He lives in our hearts and that makes him real.”
The training session the next morning, while not exactly an unqualified success, was at least a significant improvement over their prior outings.
Steve explained that instead of trying to force everyone to ignore all their previous experience and conform to his idea of how combat should be conducted, they were going to try pooling their collective knowledge, thereby expanding everyone’s expertise and increasing their familiarity with one another’s particular skills and weaknesses.
And then he invited Thor to step up and share some of his strategies for dealing with the magical and non-human opponents he’d faced in Asgard.
It wasn’t terrible. Only one argument broke out, and it ended quickly when Thor picked up the offending parties (in this case, Clint and Tony) by the scruff of their necks and banged them together like a pair of muddy shoes. After that everyone seemed to get along pretty well. And if the Avengers ever happened to find themselves in a fight with a giant Asgardian sea serpent, they would know exactly what to do.