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The Hulk Fish
It was Bruce Banner’s birthday.
Normally – preferably – he would treat the day just like any other. No presents, no cake, no fuss. And he was okay with that. He really was.
But now, living in the newly renovated Stark Towers with his five teammates (and Pepper) as well as frequent visits from various SHIELD staff members, “low key” wasn’t exactly an option.
Pepper’s original plans had included renting a ballroom and a guest list somewhere in the hundreds. Somehow he managed to convince her to shorten the guest list to ten, and settle for holding it in the so-called “Avengers Lounge” on the 45th floor instead.
Looking at the day so far, Bruce realized that it really could have gone much worse. But then again, the day wasn’t over yet, and he didn’t want whatever powers that be to decide to prove him wrong.
Their dinner, catered by a local Italian restaurant, had been, overall, a success. There was the unfortunate case of one of the waiters looking Fury in the eye patch a little too long, as well as Thor throwing his plate to the floor after finishing his slice of chocolate gateau and demanding another. Luckily, Pepper had been smart enough to give him a shatterproof plate, so there was no harm done. At least, not to the plate. The look his girlfriend Jane was giving him, however, left Bruce certain that a couch was in Thor’s not-too-distant future.
Having finished eating, there was only one thing left to do: open presents. As a general rule, Bruce enjoyed presents. After all, who didn’t?
But then he met Tony Stark.
Now, deep down, he knew Tony was a good guy. He trusted Tony with his life. But he just couldn’t quite find it in himself to trust him to pick out an appropriate, non-dangerous birthday gift.
It didn’t help that Tony had been giving him not-so-subtle hints that his present was (in his own words), “the most brilliant and all-around greatest present that he would ever receive”. If he was nervous before hearing that, afterwards he was downright worried.
“And now… presents!”
Speak of the devil.
Tony hopped up from the table, returning with the collection of wrapped boxes and bags which had been placed on a nearby table, and dropping them in front of Bruce.
“Open mine last.”
Bruce couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at that. Weren’t they too old for stuff like this?
“Alright, Stark. Which one’s yours, then?”
“The one that is currently not here.”
Bruce looked at him with disbelief.
“Wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.”
Somehow, Bruce did not found no comfort in this.
Pushing the almost certainly dangerous absentee present out of his mind, Bruce focused on enjoying his other (non-threatening) gifts.
Steve gave him a framed portrait of the Avengers that he had painted himself. Bruce was happy to see himself in the group, as opposed to, you know, the Other Guy.
Natasha got him a book on yoga with an accompanying DVD. Seeing a flicker of confusion that passed over his features, Natasha clarified: “It helps me relax.”
Clint gave him a sci-fi novel by his favorite author. (Bruce later realized that he must have overheard when he mentioned that he hadn’t read this one yet).
Thor and Jane got him a nice tie. (Jane must have picked it out. Bruce doubted Thor even knew how to tie a tie, not to mention how to pick out one that wasn’t painfully hideous.)
Coulson got him a pen. That was also a taser.
From Fury he got a leather portfolio with several blank reports already inside with a note that read “Finish before Tuesday”.
Maria Hill got him a body razor and a certificate to a local spa. For a chest wax.
From Pepper he got a selection of caffeine-free herbal teas.
Which only left Tony.
Where was Tony?
“What on Earth…?”
Bruce turned to see what had left Pepper quite so astounded, and immediately wished he hadn’t.
With a freaky, Loki-esque grin, Tony Stark was wheeling in a large cart, on which sat a suspiciously large object obscured from view by a red velvet covering. After seeing that he had successfully gained everyone’s attention, he removed the covering with a flourish.
Revealing a comically small goldfish in a comically large tank. They all looked at Tony, mostly too concerned for his mental health to be amused.
“Tony, is that a–”
“Goldfish? Yes. No. Actually, I’m not quite entirely sure in this case. It’s 99.8 percent goldfish.”
Bruce looked at the fish in question suspiciously.
“I call it a Hulk Fish.”
“Pepper, hand me a spoon.”
“Tony, I don’t think—”
“I know I don’t like being handed things, but in this case I’ll make an exception.”
“Tony, that has absolutely nothing to do with what I was going to say…”
“Sorry? What was that? I can’t hear you, I’m too busy waiting for a spoon.”
Everyone was too concerned with Tony’s state of mind to bother taking a crack at his unintended double entendre.
Realizing her argument was being ignored, Pepper humored him and handed him the unused teaspoon from her place setting.
Sticking the spoon in the tank, Tony used it to poke the fish repeatedly.
Bruce noticed that, in addition to looking severely irritated (could fish even get angry?), it was beginning to turn green. Suddenly, it grew from the size of a walnut to that of a watermelon, and displayed disturbing muscle mass for a fish. It also had teeth, which were currently trying to find their way into Tony’s arm. He quickly pulled aforementioned appendage from the tank before any success could be had in that venture.
Bruce took off his glasses and rubbed his temples, feeling the familiar beginnings of a headache, a natural side-effect of prolonged Tony Stark exposure.
“Remember that day when we were messing around with your cells in the lab?”
The way Bruce remembered it, Tony was the one playing around with his cells while he was trying to get actual work done. But he decided to let it pass.
“Yes, Tony, but what—” Suddenly, it all clicked together for Bruce, “Tony, you didn’t…”
“Oh yes, yes I did. 99.8% goldfish, 0.2% Bruce Banner. Gene splicing has come a long way, my friend.”
Steve, thoroughly lost whenever the two started talking science, considered asking about this “jean spicing”, but then thought better of it. There were some things he just didn’t need to know.
“I was thinking he could be our new mascot.”
Tony Stark truly had a talent for rendering people speechless.