It becomes a pattern in the aftermath.
Bruce has set up a makeshift lab in Wakanda, while the world takes stock of their dead and Wakanda mourns for their king. Bruce isn’t doing anything important, but he needs to do something, so he studies Wakanda’s vibranium supply and attempts to keep Shuri busy.
Otherwise, the grief might just be too much for the both of them to bear.
Bruce also tries very hard not to think about Tony and what form of matter Tony may or may not be at this very moment. He’s only moderately successful.
It’s on the third day of the second week after half of the world has turned to ash that Thor brings Bruce a little green snake. Bruce is baffled, but he tried to be polite about it. Bruce is heartsick, though, so that makes everything a little harder.
Then Thor asks for Bruce to see if the snake is Loki, and it takes every bit of willpower Bruce Banner poses to not burst into tears. Thor is so strong and so keen to smile, he makes it so easy for everyone to forget that he has lost nearly everything.
Bruce pokes at the snake without any further complaints. When nothing happens, the grief on Thor’s face is unimaginable.
Bruce begins spending time with both Thor and Shuri, in a desperate attempt to combat his own grief by combatting theirs.
All the while, every second or third day, Thor brings Bruce a small green animal and asks Bruce to see if it his lost brother. Bruce checks every time, with care and precision, but the result is always negative. It’s awful for both of them, but Thor can’t seem to stop and Bruce doesn’t know how to make him.
This pattern holds for a few weeks, until Thor brings Bruce a beaten and battered lizard. It’d been burned somehow and it looked like one of its limbs had been badly broken. When Thor presents it to him, Bruce honestly isn’t sure if Thor had just brought the little thing to Bruce to see if it could be saved.
“Could you check?” Thor asks, the question quiet and hurt after so many weeks of negative results from Bruce’s prodding and poking.
“Of course,” Bruce says softly, adding his portion of the call and response.
He gingerly picks up the lizard, as the poor also looks like he’d been through the wringer, and gives him a quick once over. Bruce’d been right about the broken leg and the burns were pretty –
The lizard fucking turns into Loki. A damaged, burnt Loki who scuttles backward on a broken leg while spitting blood.
Thor bursts into tears. Bruce bursts out laughing. Everyone has their own way of processing grief and shock and grief turned into shock, apparently.
It’s later, when they’ve gotten Loki a little patched up, convinced Okoye not to kill Loki (”He tried to destroy the world!” she says – “He’s gotten better,” Bruce says), and Thor’s eyes were mostly dry, that Loki finally says through clenched, bloodied teeth:
“They’re in a pocket dimension.”
“Who?” Bruce whispers, stunned.
“Everyone. I told him he’d never be a god. He was just a warlord playing at being something powerful. He should’ve fucking listened.”
JUST THIS ONCE, ROSE, EVERYBODY LIVES
I just… I needed this today