Tony’s company is enough to keep him cheerful and buoyant following Thor and Loki’s departure, but he can’t stay at Bruce’s side forever. He has a girlfriend to get back to, and Bruce can hardly begrudge him that.
He doesn’t know where he’s going. He ought to head to an airport and get a flight as far from America as he can: if he goes somewhere isolated, he can fool himself into believing that they won’t find him again.
He ends up wandering the streets, further than he intended, until he winds up in a neighbourhood he doesn’t know. The streets are unfamiliar and seem to stretch out like a spider’s web as far as he can see.
He wonders about the risk of asking for directions; he wonders if the response will be threatening enough to bring the other guy out.
The sound of a motorbike engine roars behind him, followed by an inappropriately cheerful blast of the horn to get his attention. Bruce turns around to be faced with none other than Steve Rogers, smiling and casual atop his bike.
"You need a lift?" Steve asks.
Bruce looks around at the urban jungle around him, and ends up giving a small chuckle. “I don’t know where I’m going,” he says.
"We can work it out. I’ve got an apartment near here if you need somewhere to crash."
Bruce hadn’t considered where Steve lived before. He seems like the military come to life; maybe Bruce had thought that Fury kept him in a box, to be pulled out and dusted off whenever the world was in peril. Isn’t that what so many people would like to do with Bruce and the other guy?
"I, ah, I’m not a big fan of motorbikes," he admits. After coming to the battle for Manhattan on one, he would be happy never to sit on another one again.
Steve doesn’t seem to take his objections too seriously, picking up a black helmet from the back of his bike and tossing it lightly to Bruce. It thumps into his hands. “Hop on.”
"Are you sure you want to risk this?" Bruce asks, even as he pushes the helmet over his head. "If you break too hard, he might come out."
"I’ll bear that in mind," Steve promises with a light thread of laughter in his voice. He doesn’t sound bothered at all. Bruce is still trying to get used to the notion of being around people who don’t view him as a threat. As long as they aren’t 30,000 feet above the Earth in a flying helicarrier, Steve doesn’t want to step on eggshells around him.
Bruce likes that.
He really, really does.
He straddles the bike behind Steve and after an awkward, expectant pause he moves his arms around Steve’s waist. They take off, the engine purring beneath them and the wind rushing in their faces. It’s a quick, exhilarating ride through streets that remain foreign to Bruce. It’s strange to think that this used to be a city he called home. He’s never felt further away from it.
Steve takes him home and insists that he stays for dinner, then for the night, then another night. Every single time, Bruce tells himself that he has to get going. He can’t stay here. He doesn’t belong.
"If I lose control…" He winces, and can’t look Steve in the face. "There’s a lot of people around. It won’t be pretty."
Steve agrees. “But if you ‘lose control’, who is better placed to stop you than us?”
There is no stopping the Hulk - but with the Avengers on the case, there might be a chance of containing him.
With an uncomfortable shrug, Bruce accepts the spare keys to Steve’s apartment. They’re a ticking time-bomb.
If nothing else, Bruce is enjoying the countdown.
Bruce and Steve