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Coda 1: Sand

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Bruce and Phil sit on two lounge chairs pulled up next to each other, on the white sand, in the late afternoon sun. They're contemplating the scenery, half wrapped up in their own thoughts.

"I'm sorry I didn't let you know how bad things were getting," Bruce tells him, not looking at Phil.

"What happened?" Phil asks. There's no judgement in his tone.

Bruce looks down at his own hands, fidgeting as he tries to formulate an answer.

"I got too used to pushing things down again. I don't usually need to any more, but that mission... Phil. It was really rough on me, and on Hulk. He gets that I can do more than he can in circumstances like that. But he still doesn't like it." Bruce shakes his head. "I used to think of him as just rage and destruction. But actually he's got a huge amount of empathy. The more I let him see the people around us, the more he understands. But it's not in his nature to moderate, to keep anything in reserve. So even when he's not particularly angry he's always there, pushing, and I'm used to pushing back. I've learned not to so often. But sometimes it's necessary. And it wears on me. It fills up my head until it crowds out everything else. The only thing that I've found that stops the cycle after that point is to get away from people, give him nothing to get worked up about. And somewhere he can't do as much damage if he does get worked up and I'm too tired to hold him back. Because having good intentions doesn't make him any less dangerous. Being able to communicate with him does, when I can explain to him why some things need to happen. But sometimes I just can't."

Phil nods, solemn and understanding. Bruce is immensely grateful for him. "Seeing people in pain," agrees Phil. "It's rough on anyone."

Bruce sees a shadow pass across Phil's eyes, a momentary flicker.

"What?" asks Bruce.

"If you ever find video of what actually happened during my recuperation," he tells Bruce with grim sincerity, "don't watch it."

"Okay," the physicist replies, remembering the haunted look in Phil's eyes after he'd regained some of those memories. Bruce doesn't always like it, but the truth is that he has to prioritize his own balance and wellbeing over a lot of other things that are important to him if he wants to keep from hurting people.

Phil quirks a smile. "I understand why they took it away and gave me Tahiti. After some things you just need some time on the beach."

Bruce looks around, frowning in concern. "I didn't even think about how this place might make you feel," Bruce says, frowning. "Are you really all right with this?"

"This feels a lot more real than Tahiti," Phil muses, brushing at his legs and rolling grains of sand between his fingers. "It's reassuring, actually."

"And if it hadn't worked that way?"

"I'd be here with people I trust," says Phil, laying a hand over Bruce's arm to squeeze it. "And there's a reason they chose that memory for me. I like beaches. And I'd fight to keep that. That's just another part of me that I won't let Loki take away from me."

Bruce nods, shifting his hand to take Phil's in his own and squeeze it. "Good," he says. "Let's come here again."

Phil smiles, small and warm and secret. "Absolutely," he replies. "You can't get better than this view."

"You really can't," Bruce agrees. And they both return to watching Clint.

Clint's back is to them, and he's shooting into a target that he propped against a dune. His quiver is stuck into the sand so that it stands on its own next to him, and he's wearing absolutely nothing other than his arm guard and tabs. The muscles of his shoulders, back, ass and legs are all in gloriously full view as they work.

Clint turns to look at them, feeling eyes on him.

"You fellas enjoying the show?" he calls.

They smile fondly at him, and Bruce drops his head in a lazy nod.

"Well, it's hungry work," he tells them pointedly. "Who's gonna make me some dinner?" He grins at them.

Bruce and Phil glance at each other.

"Team effort?" Bruce asks.

"I've got salad if you want to do main course," Phil agrees. And they fall into easy conversation about ingredients and possibilities, all the while keeping their hands linked together.

And they're achingly glad to be where they are, no matter how much they had to go through to get here.