Hulkstalkers

November 28, 2017:

Bruce Banner meets with Hawkeye and Phil Coulson to discuss his reasons for arriving at the Triskelion.

Triskelion Cafeteria

The Headquarters, Armory and Fortress of the Strategic Homeland
Intervention Enforcement and Logistics division is, for the most part, an
unassailable tower in the midst of the diplomatic sprawl that is Midtown
East. The primary intelligence clearing houses and most of SHIELD's senior
leadership are all housed hear, along with a veritable army of agents and
staff to keep the place running, the world spinning and the weirdness at
bay.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Iron Man

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's midday; a good time for a late or forgotten lunch. Or an early one, if you're as jetlagged as Dr. Bruce Banner. There's not many around after lunch peaked and work resumed. But, there's no time like the present to adapt to the new current time zone, even if it causes a layer of mild headache. Bruce has settled into the cafeteria at a small table with a modest whole wheat sandwich, iced tea, clump of napkins, chips all on his tray — standard cafeteria fare, really. He gives a sort of vague, bland smile to his babysitter— a subtle agent enjoying his own lunch over on the other side and acting entirely disinterested in Bruce — but Bruce isn't at all surprised or even upset by having somebody keep an eye out. After all, he's just arrived, and you don't just leave something you're unsure about unattended. Bruce slides the tray mostly to the side on the small table, careful not to tip it off the table, and brings out a tablet from the bag at his feet. He pauses, stirring in his shirt pocket for glasses: adds those, and taps away on it while dealing with the sandwich's evident need to fall apart.

Hardly someone that would deserve a babysitter or much notice at all, at first glance, but that's just the way things are.

Word gets around pretty quick when the big green guy is on campus, even though he's currently a little non-green nerd at the moment. There's even a protocol and a codename tht has nothing to do with green.

"Howdy, Gulliver," says a voice from behind Bruce. Clint's carrying his own tray, and clad in a rather nondescript navy suit, sans tie. He drops his tray down without an invitation. "I mean, Doctor Banner. But if you hear anyone whispering about Gulliver, they're talking about you. Not sure whose idea that was. Might've been mine." He spoons a mouthful of pasta salad into his mouth. His tray has a weird assortment of food. It looks like he took a small amount of…pretty much everything on-offer.

"'Gulliver'?" Bruce asks mildly, arching his brows a little bit, curious. Maybe amused. "Am I a prisoner of tiny people?" Bruce asks wryly. "Hopefully I'll impress their king." He willingly makes space for the new arrival to the table, sliding his tray to give the two extra inches before it might be considered in danger of crashing to the floor. He looks kind of over his glasses at Clint, but it isn't a judging look — just easier to see over them at this distance. "Good to see you, Agent Barton." A pause. "I wondered what that was — do you know?" Bruce asks, leaning forward to point at one of the round looking pastry-like items on Barton's tray.

"I am fairly certain that…" Clint prods the round pastry, "…is a half-frozen profiterole. Because the SHIELD cafeteria has many wonders. It has six different kinds of room temperature coffee, various raw vegetables cut two days ago with dressing that contains more calories than a cheeseburger, various deep-fried delights created from various starches and proteins that contains WAY more salt than you or I should comfortably consume, but shockingly, does not have an in-house pastry chef." He shrugs. "Pretty good, though. Help yourself. I had two donuts at a meeting this morning." He jams his fork into a little dish of something that looks vaguely like coleslaw.

"Come now, Barton," comes a voice from the door. Mild and somewhat more in possession of his sense of humor.

"You forgot all about the culinary delights of licking cracker crumbs out of a spent packet because you don't have time to get down to the cafeteria. That's my personal favorite."

He crosses with his coffee cup, complete with SHIELD logo, in hand. He pours creamer and sugar into the cup and has himself a little coffee with that a moment later, splashing the dark brew into place. Phil Coulson may still be every bit as tense and pissed as he was at the press conference, but with a little time he has at least put it all back in the box where it belongs, out of the view of anyone who might be counting on him.

Therefore, it is tough to tell. He's wearing his Cheshire Cat smile.

"Oh. Huh. How about that. You had me at 'half frozen'," Bruce says with a quiet smile, accepting the offer to reach out and pick it up, and inspect it as if it was a foreign object worth careful scrutiny of it's potentially interesting biological potential in a lab. He turns partially to look towards Phil, and his smile grows a little bit more, glancing back to Barton to see his response to the light ribbing. Watching others interact, particularly SHIELD agents, is something interesting, evidently. "I try not to forget to eat. Hangry isn't a good state for anyone," Bruce comments lightly, and pauses, tapping the pastry on the table. Tonk tonk tonk.

"…Make that fully frozen."

"That is why my desk is filled with Kit-Kats and Power Bars. But my desk isn't usually where I get stuck. Usually that's somewhere ending in -istan." The reason for Clint picking and choosing from a wide assortment of offerings becomes clear as he discards a few of the small dishes when he judges them to be unpalatable. Unsurprisingly, he's left with pasta salad, a piece of fried chicken, a small plate of fries and gravy, and some celery and carrot sticks. The rest gets set aside. He looks up at Coulson, eyebrows raising. "I heard there was a bit of a ruckus earlier."

Then he inspects the cream puff. He pokes it with a fork but it resists his tongs. He tries to catch the eye of the lady at the dessert station. When Clint motions to the frozen ball of pastry, she just shrugs.

Coulson grimaces at that frozen bit. In sympathy. "I'm sorry your entry was as it was, Banner. Are you getting settled in alright? Being given everything you need? If not, I am now in a position and mindset to arrange that."

He looks over at Clint and sighs. "Yeah. It…"

He just shakes his head.

Disappointed, worried; it flashes across his face and eyes in seconds. He covers it by walking over to get some of this food that's laid out, not particularly caring what state the food is in. It is not, after all, crumb de la Saltine packet. He has a duty not to let his frustrations show, and he already blew that on camera. He can at least do his job in here.

"My entry? It was fine," Bruce says, sounding actually surprised that it would something to apologize for. "I hope my driver didn't get in trouble," he adds after a pause, dismayed. And then realizes, hey, perhaps Phil wanted to sit, and he immediately puts his tablet away and scoots his chair sideways with an accidental scream of metal on metal as it hits the table leg. It does, of course, make that watchful agent from across the way look over urgently. Nope, all fine. Besides, other agents are there — specifically Coulson. The 'babysitter' agent gives a stoic nod and makes himself scarce.

"I do have some, ah, concerns?… but I figured it could wait until I'm called in. I expect there's questions for me as well," Banner says, in a kind of tired way. He no doubt has certain expectations of what will happen or be talked about. He diverts to stirring his iced tea a little with the straw. "Sooner is possibly better, as I'm aware my stay probably should be limited."

Clint takes a bite of the fried chicken, then decides that is no good either. He motions to the woman again who rolls her eyes. He slouches back a bit and picks up the container of pasta salad, which seems to be the one food item that isn't getting worse the more he eats it. "Anything in particular bring you back in?" he asks of Banner in between mouthfuls of rotini.

He knows better than to ask follow-up questions of Coulson if he's looking irritated like that.

Coulson shakes his head firmly. "Why would she be in trouble? She did fine."

He couldn't have done better, that's for sure.

But he listens to all of what Banner has to say, and lets Clint ask his questions. Of Banner, not of him, which is wise. Coulson also rarely answers a whole lot of questions directly, after all, even when it's not particularly necessary to hold the cards close. He eats his food like it's a gourmet meal, hardly noticing what's too hot, too cold, to overcooked, too undercooked. He normally would look apologetic at displacing someone or needing a chair even so much as moved for him, but he doesn't today.

Too focused on other things. He glances at Banner with hazel eyes; he's not going to stop him from telling Clint anything he wants. Or not telling him. As the case may be.

Thoughts on how long Banner should stay are left similarly unvoiced.

"Good, I thought so too," Bruce says of the agent driver. He's not going to hang anyone out to dry on small things. Besides, nobody was harmed - just some clothing. And ruining clothing is almost tradition. Bruce moves his attention more entirely to Clint's question: which means he's mostly still looking at the iced tea and stirring it, but finally raises his eyes to scan both of the men, and say in a serious tone, "Primarily, that I've been aware of a lot of shadows on me. And I think it's a good idea to find out if all of them are yours… or not. Either way, I need a little more…" he considers his phrasing, and it comes out as a gently tactful: "…Room to breathe." He taps his tray a little, "I understand to an extent, trust is earned, and have some things to offer in return for a— slightly longer leash. Or, if this isn't SHIELD… then there's a different issue."

"If you felt them on you," begins Clint. He pulls air between his teeth, "…they weren't ours." He doesn't say that jokingly. He's quite serious. "Not only because we're more competent than that, but yeah, you being paranoid is good for exactly…" he makes a '0' sign with his thumb and forefinger and makes a popping sound.

He stabs a fry and sends it for a gravy bath. The idea of a negotiation makes him look to Coulson. Certainly not his area. "Doctor Banner, there's a lot of people who'd be interested in you, green guy or no. Don't you hold like, eight bajillion doctorates in high level physics and some other nerdy…nerdy stuff that makes my head hurt?"

"A man with eight bajillion doctorates is certainly intelligent enough to spot his tails, though I appreciate your confidence, Clint. You had two until three weeks ago. A blonde man, five eight, green eyes, left handed, never smiles. And a young woman, black, five foot if she's an inch. Three weeks ago I added three more because yes, we did notice more tails. I am glad you came in, Banner, but we weren't going to force it."

He gives the ghost of a genuine smile. "Your situation is difficult, but believe it or not, we're trying to reduce the pain in the ass factor, not tighten your leash. We don't know who your new tails are yet, but we weren't going to force the issue unless it became absolutely necessary."

"Eight? No … Three bajillion, tops," the scientist deadpans back to Clint without missing his cue. And then a soft smile. "But I'm no 007, so no, generally my spotting is minimial. And. Well, normally I try not to look for them. I accept they are doing their jobs, and that being aware of if something's going badly can save lives," Bruce says generously. He's actually very tolerant of it, it appears — or is he? There's a bit of tension in it that could be a little alarming to see in Banner. And he HAS tried to dodge them a few times in the past. SHIELD did find him again, of course. So there's that.

"But I got a bit… curious about how many shadows I had. I've worked on an improved tracking mechanism: senses of air change in different zones, to track flags of intrusion that would elude more standard security, helps against cloaking or unusual motion types. Identification mostly: there's tendencies in movement or the way you stride or—but I digress. There's a lot more creeping around me than I had accounted for. I rather regret that curiosity now. Sometimes ignorance is easier for peace of mind than forced denial. … So here we are."

"He wouldn't have felt me," says Clint as he eats another mouthful of food. He speaks with a bit of food in his mouth when he adds, "Just sayin'." But then, no one would accuse him of being an ordinary field agent.

He listens to Bruce's description of his tech. Without saying it out loud, there's a sense that he's thinking, 'noted.' "Sometimes it's better to not know, but you're not paranoid if people are always watching you, as the story goes."

"Excellent. You're now officially Bannon's detail," Phil tells Barton. "Thank you for volunteering. I'm sure he'll only need one field agent now that he is in your caring and capable hands."

All this talk about how Bruce found his tails goes right over Phil's head, but that doesn't mean the wheels aren't turning. "In the meantime, Dr. Banner, as you heard, we have ourselves a very nasty terrorism problem growing. I'll get you the footage. It is disturbing. If you can sense air changes to find your tails, maybe you can help our lab boys whip up some things that might help us deal with them. Or even find them. As you can see they are causing quite the dangerous and disappointing sea change in public opinion."

Phil takes a sip of his coffee. How long will Banner be here? Well. He's leaving that wide open, isn't he?

A look is given to the new agent with the privilege of watching Dr. Banner, a sort of unsure one, as if Bruce possibly took Coulson seriously on it. But he doesn't make any remark on that, he moves on: "As I said, I'm willing to give trust to earn it: I'm open to working with your labs, if the problems are in my skill set. I'm not really 'up' on what's going on: I avoid the news mostly, for, mmm, personal reasons. I mean… how disturbing of footage are we talking?" Bruce IS concerned, but trying to moderate himself here. His wish to help needs to be in line with the dangers he poses. He doesn't grumble, he just gives a measured sigh.

"I… want to ask how many others are on me, and what you know. But I won't. Because I don't think it'll help matters. But I will ask, do you have them handled?" Bruce now eats his sandwich as if everything was just peachy: a sort of forced calm thing. But sometimes acting a certain way can help one feel a certain way too. "I'm going for a low stress environment, and if their interest is more green than scientific, well." Bruce says blandly. "If I need to move further away from cities for a while… I can do that." Tired, and a tad hopeless. And the undercurrent of guilt. If he's aware he's even welcome to stay? Unlikely.

Clint opens mouth, then closes when Coulson slaps him with Hulksitting. Or rather, Bannersitting, which may or may not be better. He rubs the back of his neck, but doesn't complain - though it looks like he dearly wants to. More for being press-ganged than for the duty itself.

"Look, you want a controlled environment? We can certainly give you that. Lab assistants who will stay on-task. No talk of outside news unless you request it. No way for tails to watch you as you work." Other than SHIELD personnel of course. "Hell, I'm sure Agent Coulson would even let you choose the paint colour on the wall. I'd go for bluebell, myself. It's calming without invoking a nursery."

"Disturbing enough that it won't be calming," Phil says. "So don't watch. And…"

He sits back.

"I'm going to be real with you a second. Dr. Banner, you trust yourself far less than I trust you. And it certainly makes no sense for you to take off while there are unknowns following you about. As it happens, Tony Stark may have a lab that will suffice. And, if you feel the need to have some quiet time, a place where you might do so safe in the knowledge that you won't harm anyone until you're calm again. You take pains to manage a difficult condition. Our watching you isn't about trust, it's about managing everything that situation entails."

He cuts another bite of chicken. "So, stay as long as you like, work on whatever suits you— though I really can use help with new equipment in response to this threat— and let us see if we can't earn your trust."

Lab assistants, and so forth… Bruce likes the description made by Barton it is clear, working with assistants!-It's been a while!— but there's a regret to the answer: "I wouldn't necessarily wish such a fate on those lab assistants, unless perhaps they volunteered and know the …downsides, but even so. I'd need them to focus, not be afraid of my reactions to their reports. So…. maybe. My controlled, solo environment has been working well, however." Or he's just telling himself that. Still, no recent problems: he's not wrong.

Dr. Banner leaves his food alone when told Coulson wants to be real. Bruce gives his full attention to the senior agent here, with appropriate serious expression. Once he's done, Bruce considers his reply. It's equally direct, if a bit… pained. "I'd like to help. Really, I would prefer to be of use to save lives, if I can." Bruce looks around, and gestures, "I just… don't want to break anything. It's a nice place." There's no arrogance in the statement, it's all a flat, self-aware statement. Because it's likely to happen. "And while it's better than, say, having an issue in a residential neighborhood as those here would potentially know how to react to minimize damage, there's still those who could be harmed. I don't want that. A quiet satellite … more feasible." A long pause.

"I don't like forcing my specific… conditions on anyone." A sudden 'real' smile, wry. "Even Tony." But resisting that candyland of technology in the Stark labs is never easy.

"Stark? Really?" Clint has apparently finished eating, and now folds his arms over his chest. "Yeah, because when I think 'calm, controlled environment,' I think 'Tony Stark.'" He snorts. The chair is rocked back on two legs as the Hawk ponders the situation. "Look, I leave the living arrangements up to whoever best makes those decisions. But if we're talking about managing stress, maybe not being around the drunk billionaire who flies a robot suit and plays vigilante would be advisable. Not that…Tony doesn't have his virtues."

Coulson ticks an eyebrow at Barton. He's got a point. And yet, bluntly:

"Bruce, Tony's got a containment unit on property that held a killer Aztec God. So if you're worried about smashing, you would, on his property, have an immediate place to go. And frankly, Barton, Stark's ridiculousness is healthy in this case. He has no fear or flinching at all, and I'm sure the two of them geeking out will be— well, it will be more terrifying than anything physical either one of you can do with your giant overpowered alter-egos. And, I might add, Stark's are almost as bad."

His tone is dry as desert air again, but he's not placating. He's just telling truth as he sees it.

"Honestly, well. Tony is all of those things. He is also a known quantity. He's not as likely to cause any issues compared to what most would think, just because… yeah. I can take it in stride." Bruce admits. "Not that I don't expect him to try." Which causes a kind of long-suffering expression to be aimed at the last smidgeon of sandwich. He eats it. "Getting TO the god-holding device and getting a… bit more calm afterwards would be the larger concern with that containment. But it is better than nothing, yes." He can agree that it could be a real option.

"Well. One step stride at a time. My current shadows only are a concern since they aren't predictable: I don't know what they want. I can keep the lid on if … I sort of have a scope of what to expect. If they can be sorted out… I can do what I can here, meanwhile, to help. I can look at the footage and see what I can come up with. And… check into the Tony option, at the least." He is attempting to be relatively easy to deal with, and make concessions, though he's clearly going to see how it goes with an extremely watchful eye.

Clint can definitely appreciate caution and suspicion. "Gotta do what works for you, Gulliver," says the archer. He stands and shovels things onto his tray. "I gotta get to a briefing, and if Coulson," he arches brows and looks over at his superior, "…is serious about me being your numero uno shadow, then I gotta clear the docket of a few things."

"Oh, did I have my 'I'm joking' face on? I'm sorry, I meant to have my yes, clear your schedule face on," Phil says, with one of those mild smiles. And the light tone that would otherwise make his snark downright rude.

He looks over to Banner. "My door is open. If you need something from me, let me know. Clint will no doubt find out who these shadows are in no time. Clint, draw support where you need it to find out who these shadows are in no time."

See, this is why he hates all those fancy titles. The job of ordering people about sometimes just feels lazy. Then again, there are all those times when the buck stops with him and various tree-men and raccoons are dripping pizza cheese all over in front of the press. Balance is a thing.

Oh good, look, a new thing for Bruce to feel guilty about: getting Barton saddled with this. Bruce kind of shifts his weight without much expression, but, then, seems to sort of accept it. "I'm glad to have a good agent on my case," Bruce says honestly, without any sarcasm. "It wasn't my intent to pull resources from more pressing matters, though, so I'll do what I can to not need a rush on your end," he adds. He'll not disappear into the bushes … for a little while, anyway. "…And to make my stay worthwhile to SHIELD," he adds, with a sort of firm certainty. There's a confidence there in science ability, even if it sure isn't there for self control!

"Yes sir, sir-de sir sir," says Clint with a sharp mock-salute towards Coulson. The respect isn't mock, rather, but the gesture is. "If we really do have Hulkstalkers," he says to Bruce, "I'd rather get 'em sorted out and figure out what they know. And that is one of the things I am exceptionally good at." He really does oscillate from talking himself up to putting himself down. Spy stuff? Up. Fighting alongside gods and monsters? Down. He may be a very talented dude with a bow, but he's still just a dude.

He picks up his tray, because he likes to stay on the good side of the cafeteria workers. "Good day, gentlemen. Banner, if you really wanted a profiterole, I bet they'll be perfectly edible in about twenty minutes."

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