Nobody's surprised that Tony has a beach house in the Hamptons.
What is surprising, Bruce thinks, is that it's actually a house. It's not a sleek modern mansion with walls of windows and metal fixtures and JARVIS watching everything. It's just a house, two stories, painted pale blue, with a huge back patio and wooden steps down to the beach. The inside is decorated with hardwoods and yellow curtains and little bowls of seashells on shelves between picture frames.
They're all family pictures: Maria and Howard together and alive, smiling, holding hands--and Tony at various ages, from a baffled-looking infant to a sullen teen with tragic hair.
There's a shout of laughter from outside. Bruce turns away from the photographs, heads back to the kitchen to grab another couple of beers from the fridge. It's late afternoon, an hour or so off from dusk, the golden end of a beautiful summer day. He lets the screen door fall shut behind him and walks down the steps, across the stone patio and onto the sand.
Bruce hands one of the bottles to Tony and drops into the chair beside him. He digs his bare feet into the sand and tips his sunglasses back on.
"I can't figure out if they're making dinner or building a sacrificial altar," Tony says.
There had been an argument about who would cook; it had involved minor fork-related injuries. Darcy and Thor had won, and they're crowded around the grill now, pointy weapons in hand. It's only a little bit terrifying how often flames leap toward the sky, and how loudly they both laugh when it happens.
"Probably both," Bruce replies.
"Probably," Tony agrees. He has some sort of old radio in his hands; he's been taking it apart and reconfiguring it into something different all afternoon. Bruce is pretty sure he doesn't actually have any plan in mind for the thing, it's just that this is the closest Tony ever gets to doing nothing. He snaps something into place and says, "At least we have the real American heroes here to protect us when things get out of control.
Bruce is almost expecting it, but he doesn't hear any jealousy in Tony's voice, just a mild, surprised amusement. Bruce figures that once he has time to get used to it, Tony will claim that introducing Steve Rogers to James Rhodes was the greatest idea he's ever had and take all the credit. And he won't be entirely wrong. Steve, for all that he's near-universally liked and adored, doesn't often make close friends easily, but he and Rhodey had been talking all afternoon.
"I think by now they've completely overhauled the entire strategic and tactical structure of the United States military," Bruce says.
"That's our boys. They make their own fun," Tony says, and yeah, that's definitely amusement, not jealousy. "Just imagine all the trouble they would get into if we left them unsupervised. But maybe we should send them down to referee the Invasion of Normandy over there." He gestures with his beer bottle toward the water. "You think it's safe?"
At the water's edge, Natasha and Clint are--well, Bruce isn't really sure what they're doing. If he didn't know them, he would have guessed "trying to kill each other with sand," but maybe Tony's right and it's only a very aggressive two-person reenactment of the storming of the beach. He wonders how many people in the world ever get a chance to see the two of them playing--not sparring, not practicing, no matter how much it looks like they're trying to drown each other, just playing. He suspects it's a headcount that begins and ends with the handful of people on this beach.
"That depends on what you mean by safe," Bruce says. "Define your terms. Are we talking temporary incapacitation or debilitating injury?"
Tony grins. "I'm almost offended on behalf of Captain America and War Machine that you're so sure they would lose."
"Almost. So what do we think: supervillains in the making or sharing kinky sex tips?"
Bruce is used to following Tony's wild leaps of thought by now, and he looks where Tony is looking, down the beach to where Pepper and Jane are sitting in the sand. They both use their hands a lot when they get going, so it's a very animated conversation.
"I refuse to offer an opinion," Bruce says, "on account of how I would then have to slap myself, and that never ends well for anybody."
"Kinky sex tips it is," Tony declares. He slides down in his chair a little bit, kicks the sand in front of him. "This was my mom's favorite place."
"I definitely refuse to offer an opinion on that unexpected change in topic. Please tell me that's a change in topic."
Tony laughs, but it's a little distracted, a little off. He twists together two wires in the radio on his lap and tucks the ends into the case. "We used to come out here every summer. She liked the peace and quiet. It drove me crazy. Dad was always doing--something. Traveling. Working. He never--" He stops abruptly. "Never mind."
It's so unusual for Tony to offer up anything about his parents, Bruce can't help but ask, "He never what?"
"Look, it's not..." Tony says. Then he changes his mind, tries again. "Contrary to popular belief, I don't spend all of my waking hours actively trying to be a self-centered asshole."
Bruce is perfectly well aware of that already, but he only says, "Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me."
"Funny. But I'm not going to sit here and whine about how Daddy was never home and all that bullshit to, well, you." He points his beer bottle at Bruce.
"That's--oh." That is not even close to what Bruce expected him to say. And for just a second, he feels his heart speed up, feels a spike of fresh anger, but it passes, and what's left is dull and worn, like an old knife that's gone too long without sharpening.
"Yeah," Tony says. He's not watching Bruce to check his reaction. He isn't looking at Bruce at all. "Sorry."
It's not like Bruce thinks it's a secret, his own ugly family history. Nobody ever brings it up, but it's in his file--all of his files; he's sure he has several--and it's in the public record, the relevant information about Brian and Rebecca Banner, the murder and the trial and all the sordid details, for anyone who cares to look.
"He died while I was--I think I was in Canada," Bruce says. Heart attack, according to the prison doctor, it was very sudden. "I didn't find out until later."
"And he's dead."
Tony doesn't answer at first, but then he says, "I think that's probably the most effective conversation stopper I've ever heard."
Bruce laughs, relieved. "Oh, I think we both know I've got a better one."
There's a victorious whoop from over by the grill, and Darcy shouts, "Now we feast!" in a reasonable approximation of Thor's best battle bellow. Down the beach, Clint and Natasha splash out of the water, and Pepper and Jane stand up, brush sand off their shorts and pick up their sandals. On the patio Steve and Rhodey are dragging chairs around the table to make room for everyone.