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 has been miserable for so long that he doesn’t know how to handle himself when faced with this newfound happiness. His anger is drawing back - the Hulk is retreating. He’s being left with a calm, productive life and a sense of contentment, and he keeps waiting for something to whip it all away.

Lying on the couch in their shared sitting room is the reason for this unexpected happiness. In sweatpants and a white t-shirt, Steve currently doesn’t look like the world’s first superhero. He still possesses the kind of muscles that most men can only aspire to, and Bruce knows for a fact that it wasn’t the serum that put the spark of intelligence in his eyes or the goodness in his heart. At rest, Steve Rogers is still a hero, but he isn’t Captain America.

At rest, he looks peaceful and entranced by the book in his lap. He hasn’t yet registered that he’s noticed Bruce’s presence in the doorway, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know Bruce is there. Steve is more alert than he lets on. The Black Widow can still put him to shame any day, but Steve is no slouch.

Bruce clears his throat anyway. “You mind if I join you?” he asks.

Steve looks up from his book, a familiar warm smile on his face. “This is your apartment too,” he reminds him. “You don’t have to ask.”

Bruce is still getting used to that: it’s not Steve’s place, it’s their place. There’s something unnaturally nice about that. He comes to sit down at the other end of the couch, letting Steve rest his feet in his lap.

Sinking back into the couch and taking Steve’s feet in his hands, he traces tense muscle absent-mindedly and he allows his thoughts to wander. The Hulk is nothing but a quiet purr in the back of his mind. The rage seems to recede every single day until it is nothing more than an echo of a bad dream.

Sometimes he worries that that dream is going to go back. He doesn’t want to see what the other guy might do to Steve. It destroys everything that he loves. Why would it react any differently to Steve?

He won’t give it a chance. Looking up towards Steve, who seems to have given up on reading his book in favour of closing his eyes with a small moan as Bruce works on his feet. Bruce has to grin at the sight of it, the world’s first superhero reduced to putty in his hands. That is the kind of power most people could never imagine. It’s certainly something the Hulk, for all his strength, could never hope to aspire to.

2

Bruce wakes up with hard metal digging into the front of his thighs. His arms are stiff from clinging onto the object all night; he has bruises on the insides of his elbows. Opening his eyes, he squints against the bright summer sun. His head pounds. It’s worst than any hangover.

He can’t remember what happened after he turned into the other guy - it’s all a fragmented blur, an abuse of sound and colour. Pushing himself upright, he finds himself sitting with Captain America’s shield clutched to his chest. His joints are stiff when he tries to move them.

The shield glints in the sun and Bruce tries to remember how he got it - he tries to recall anything that led to this moment, while the sick knowledge that something might have happened to Steve threatens to invade his consciousness. He has his shield, blue and red and white, marred with dirt and dust.

It’s agony to get to his feet, but when he does Bruce looks around to find himself in a work-yard. The buildings around him are still in tact; the Hulk hasn’t ripped the city to the ground. Not today.

A SHIELD agent issues him with some new clothes before she buzzes away again, and Bruce begins to see the chaos surrounding him; the place is swarming with suits. Every instinct tells him to run.

Yet his gaze seeks out the distinctive blue costume, and as he steps into the SHIELD-issued sweatpants he can’t stop the smile on his face as he confirms that Steve is alright. From the looks of things he is deep in an argument with Tony. The Hulk taking his shield hasn’t had any effect.

Once he’s dressed, Bruce makes his way towards the rest of the team, even if he’d like nothing more than to slip away unnoticed. “Captain,” he says, barely looking him in the face. “I think this is yours.”

Steve takes it back with a smile, but when Bruce asks how he got it he doesn’t seem to have an answer for him.

"I think you wanted a snuggle buddy," Tony says. "Cap refused to play so you went for the next best thing."

Bruce knows, or hopes, that that is Tony’s typical twisting of the truth, but he can’t stop the red flush that flares in his cheeks all the same. It’s not well hidden by the dirt on his face. He clears his throat. “Well,” he says. “I’m sorry.”

Steve waves it off and Bruce is left to stew in his own embarrassment - counting slowly while he breathes and waits for his face to return to a normal, human colour.

Their eyes meet over Steve’s slumbering body, and Bruce thinks that maybe this should be one of the awkwardest moments of his life. Tony might be used to handling post-threesome etiquette, but it’s a new experience for Bruce. What are you supposed to say to the man who just fucked your boyfriend for you?

"Well," Tony says, his lips twitching into a smirk. "I guess we finally worked out how to shut him up."

Bruce should really be offended on Steve’s behalf. He doesn’t feel that way at all, but he holds in a smirk anyway. His hand rests on Steve’s shoulder; Steve’s skin is always so hot, a few degrees above that of any other human that Bruce has met. It makes him perfect for warming cold fingers.

"So," Bruce says, holding onto the single syllable for as long as he can. "What’s supposed to happen now?"

"I’m not looking to steal him away from you, if that’s what you’re asking," Tony answers with a wry grin. "If I can come and play from time to time, that’s enough to keep me happy."

Bruce doesn’t want to admit that he’s relieved to hear that. Tony is the closest friend he’s got - and he’s charming, and handsome, and wickedly smart. As a rival, he would be crushing. “I can work with that,” he promises with a small smile.

Thinking of the way that Tony had helped Steve to look completely ruined, he thinks that he can more than ‘work’ for that. With a super-soldier in his bed, Bruce can be left feeling overwhelmed. Maybe with a little team-work that isn’t going to be a problem any more.

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