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Baby Steps

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It wasn’t that Bruce was afraid to travel. He’d covered half the globe in the last several years, living in no less than six different countries, and passing through three times as many. He’d just never done it for fun. His family had never gone on vacation any farther than the county park, and once at college, Bruce only left after the accident. He’d become a world-traveler out of need, rather than want. He’d never seen the Grand Canyon, the Golden Gate bridge, or even the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine. Well, at least not with his own eyes. Maybe the Other Guy had, but he was never particularly forthcoming on the intricacies of scenery. Or much of anything, truth be told. The only information Bruce generally got from him was whatever bits of dust or mud were clinging to his body when the Hulk finally subsided, and he really hadn’t had the luxury or expertise to do soil analysis while he’d been on the run.

The irony was the Other Guy had taken Bruce places he’d always wanted to go. Bruce had wanted to see the world since he’d been a child, to be anywhere except home. Home… had not been a safe haven for him. Fate had chosen to backhandedly give him what he’d always wanted, in the form he’d least wanted it. He’d left home, he’d gotten adventure-.

“And look where it got you,” Tony was saying, spreading his arms wide, managing to indicate the entire suite and the lab above. “Penthouse in Manhattan, where you’re part of a superhero team, enjoying the good life.”

“I’m still not sold on the whole ‘superhero’ thing,” Bruce said.

“You should be. I am.”

“You’re you.”

“And you’re you,” Tony said, with fierce protectiveness.

Bruce blushed at that. Originally he had intended to leave New York the moment Loki was off of Earth, but somehow Tony had managed to convince him to return to the Tower instead of going to Port Authority and getting out of the country. That “convincing” had included the fact that Tony wanted him around, that no one was going to touch him with both Tony and S.H.I.E.L.D. running interference, and some astoundingly eloquent arguments that they’d all do a lot more good banding together than scattering completely.

It was that last thing that Bruce was willing to acknowledge. He’d learned enough in his travels to be a big believer in karma. And if fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, I-don’t-play-well-with-others Tony Stark was advocating strength in numbers, Bruce would believe him.

“So I am,” Bruce said in concession.

“And you are not taking shameless advantage of my generosity. I’m just saying, Pepper would cry if she could see your closet. Primarily because it’s virtually empty,” Tony said, flinging open the doors dramatically. “I don’t think you’ve bought so much as a single sock since you’ve gotten here.”

“I like the socks I have?” Bruce temporized, trying not to look anxious as Tony poked his head in the echoingly empty closet bigger that was than some houses Bruce had been in overseas. He didn’t want Tony to see the packed bag in the far corner. It was just habit, and Bruce didn’t want Tony to take it the wrong way.

Tony shot him an annoyed glance. “You don’t wear socks. That was a trick question, Big Science.”

“Then let’s get realistic,” Bruce said, fighting to keep his voice animated and not let it go flat. “I’m hard on clothes.”

“The way you cook, I’m not surprised,” Tony said easily. “That curry is lethal on dry clean only.”

Bruce was startled into a laugh.

“Just saying, Pepper would cry. And we don’t make Pepper cry around here. Bad luck for like, eighteen years or something.”

“For Pepper’s sake then,” Bruce conceded, putting up his hands. “I’ll consider getting… three whole shirts.”

“Whoa!” Tony said, clutching a hand to his chest, “Don’t go crazy, now.”

“Trust me, shopping is as about as crazy as I get.”

Tony chuckled. “Go max out your S.H.I.E.L.D. credit card; you’re going to need more than three shirts where we’re going.”


“Vacation. You haven’t left the Tower since I tempted you in here with my Candyland of cutting-edge technology and all the tea you could drink, so it’s about time I tempted you out again. All in the name of a balanced breakfast, of course.”

Bruce rubbed the back of his neck as his stomach sank. “That’s… what worries me. I got this… you gave me a place here.”

“You earned this, every brick.”

Bruce looked away, guilt tugging at him. He’d stayed when his instincts said he should have gone, and had tried to settle down, let himself relax, plant some kind of roots here. And yet, there had been something eating at him for a while.

“I’m used to being on the move. Itchy feet, looking over my shoulder. It would be… easy to go,” he confessed. And hard to convince himself to come back. The Tower was home, but he worried that if he left this time, he might not come back. Except that wasn’t entirely true, not this time. People knew him now, cared for him, not just the Other Guy. The Avengers would search (not hunt) for him to try to bring him back.

“So? Baby steps, Big Science,” Tony said, nonplussed.

“How do you do a vacation in baby steps?” Bruce asked. To be honest, he’d never done things in baby steps. When he’d left home, he had moved across the country. When he’d chosen his major, he’d chosen something as different from his father as possible. When he’d fallen in love, he’d fallen for the girl who had a father who ended up wanting to kill him. And when he’d had his first big government contract, he had decided to experiment on himself.

No, Bruce really didn’t do baby steps.

“Simple. Watch.” Tony walked to Bruce’s closet and unerringly plucked Bruce’s go-bag from its half-hidden spot under a shelf.

“Tony-,” Bruce protested, embarrassed that Tony had known he had it.

“Hey, habit. We’ve all got bad habits. I still use a night light,” Tony said easily, tapping his chest plate. Bruce rolled his eyes. “And then…” Tony hooked the bag over his shoulder, walked into the hallway, pushed open the stairway door, and hiked up three floors. Bruce followed curiously behind him, and both ended up on a floor of guest suites. Tony put the bag at the end of a bed in the first open room and turned around.

“Tower vacation. Total change of scene. If you’re feeling really adventurous, we can go up on the roof terrace and roast marshmallows in the fire pit.”

“Sounds a little tame for you.”

“Baby steps, Big Man. I’d take you to Vegas if you’d let me. I know some people there you wouldn’t believe-.”

“Try again,” Bruce said, trying not to laugh at Tony’s elegant solution to Bruce’ fear.

“Hadron Supercollider.”

Now you’re tempting me.”

Tony smiled as he walked over and slid back the curtains. “There’s a place up the coast that does killer lobster rolls. Road trip? As a test run?”

Bruce walked over to him and looked down at the city, still recovering from the invasion, but the scars were starting to smooth over.

“Let’s… just try this. It’s… honestly I think this is my first vacation, Tower or otherwise.”

Tony slung an arm around Bruce’s shoulders. “That’s something we can fix.”