Disclaimer: The Avengers are so not mine. All hail Marvel and Joss Whedon!


Steve Rogers looked out the window of his guest room in Stark Tower, regarding the lights of New York City as it tried to recover and repair from the attack of Loki's army. The city was both familiar and unfamiliar to him—the bones of the city he knew were still there and still strong, but the surface had changed so much. Out there, the world was reeling from the confirmation that aliens—space aliens—were real and hostile. Steve felt like he was living in a Buck Rogers movie. Of course, he felt like that every day; adding aliens to his surreal existence wasn't that big a stretch. It would be to everyone else, though, he realized. He wondered how S.H.I.E.L.D. had hidden their knowledge of Thor so successfully.

Restless, he left the window and looked around the spacious room. After the battle he'd been exhausted and battered—they all had—but he recovered from such things with superhuman speed these days, and now he was too wired to sleep.

He couldn't seem to stop thinking about his teammates, flipping through their locations and status like cards on a wheeldex, as he had during the battle. Thor, unharmed, guarded the muzzled and shackled Loki in the depths of Stark's underground, until the tesseract could be readied to power their journey back to Asgard. Stark, who more or less died in outer space, but somehow survived the fall back to earth and revived, both with the Hulk's help, groggily insisted on treating them all to those Middle-Eastern sandwiches, waved a hostly hand toward his "palace," as Thor called it, then limped off to his own laboratory or bedroom, Steve didn't know which. He felt Stark should be looked at by a doctor, but he also knew where his ability to command this force ended.

Clint and Natasha, both still actual SHIELD agents, allowed Fury's transports to take them and Selvig off to be debriefed. Steve trusted that SHIELD would take care of them. He himself, while not a SHIELD agent, was considered a "guest" of SHIELD and had some quarters they would have taken him to, had he not declined. He couldn't leave until he knew the disposition of all his men, and one of them was down. Banner.

He opened a closet and found a white robe made from terry cloth. "Miss Potts, I assume," he said aloud. Stark didn't seem to have much in the way of staff, but someone had provided the guest rooms with amenities such as the cotton pajamas he wore.

"No, sir," said a British-accented voice from above, and Steve nearly jumped out of the pajamas. "I keep Stark Tower fully stocked and furnished."

"JARVIS." He remembered. "Do you spy on people in their bedrooms?"

"I am primary surveillance for the facility, yes."

Right. A world without privacy, how could he have forgotten. Well, like everything else, he'd just have to learn how to use it. "Is Dr. Banner still sleeping?"

"Dr. Banner is at the level fourteen bar. He is awake."

"The bar on the top floor? In the ruined area?"

"No, the bar on level fourteen. It also serves as a kitchen."

Steve slipped on the robe and matching slippers. Artificial Intelligence, someone had called JARVIS. He wondered how far toward artificial life this world had gone. Ever since giving Fury the ten bucks, he'd been careful never to assume things couldn't get weirder. "So, Jarvis, you were here when Loki and his people took over."

"Of course. My central cortex was assaulted by an unfamiliar technology which overwhelmed 92.3 percent of my local consciousness. Only temporarily," he added, sounding smug.

Steve picked his way through that statement cautiously, still trying to find the right question to ask. "You're part of the building, right? Even the observation deck that got demolished?"

"My intelligence is distributed. Stark Tower is only one set of input devices that provide telemetry to my overall cortex. I cannot describe myself more simply for you, and a much more detailed explanation would be classified per Mr. Stark."

Steve shook his head, smiling. "I'm not trying to spy on you or Mr. Stark. What I want to know is—did it hurt?"

Steve didn't know if the pause before Jarvis answered was because the machine needed to think or because it was designed to simulate a human conversation. But a few seconds went by before Jarvis responded, "The extent to which I simulate a living being is, so far, only that. Simulation. I was not hurt."

"Good." Steve opened his door.

"But it was kind of you to ask."

-divide-

Along the way to the fourteenth floor he learned that most of the floors in Stark Tower had bars.

Details of their battle still filled his head. He'd made decisions, deployed their forces, directed and ordered like he did this every day. At the time, he'd had to be extremely confident; now, in the night, he could afford to worry about whether he'd done the right things. He felt good, though. He'd actually never commanded men in battle, despite his fame and his moniker, but he'd known somehow, even as a scrawny kid in Brooklyn, that he'd be good at it.

He found Bruce Banner, wearing familiar-looking pajamas and robe, in a gleaming kitchen, hunched at a counter, hands wrapped around a coffee mug. The coffee smelled great.

Bruce gave him a weary smile. "You brought me here?"

"I brought your motorbike. Thor brought you. That smells heavenly." He looked around. Three stoves were in view, but none of them had coffee on a burner. "Where is it?"

Bruce gestured with his mug, and Steve spotted the percolator—more like a glass pitcher on its own dedicated burner- procured a mug and poured. He sat across the counter from Bruce. "You all right?"

Bruce gave him a startled glance, like that was something he didn't expect to hear, and looked down again. "Seem to be." He took a swallow of coffee. "Thanks." Bruce's hair was wet; he'd showered.

"What for? Finding you a bed? You're welcome."

The battle won, Hulk's rage had dissipated, leaving a naked and exhausted Bruce Banner. He made it to the restaurant Stark shepherded them to, but after attempting to eat the shwarma, he slipped off his chair into a soporific state on the floor. That signaled the end of their break from duty. Steve had read SHIELD's file on the Hulk, but apparently the toll the transformation took on Bruce's body was not known to any official sources. None of the others knew if he even had a place to stay in NYC. If there was one thing Steve could tell from his file, it was that Bruce would not want to wake up in SHIELD's hands.

Bruce made a wry twist with his mouth. "For taking the chance having me here. If Fury's letting me go, I'll get going in the morning."

Steve frowned, considering which misapprehension to address first. "It's Stark's place, so don't thank me. But—we weren't taking much of a chance. Do you transform in your sleep?"

"Never have." Bruce nodded. He looked directly at Steve. "I nearly killed Natasha in Fury's airship."

Steve hesitated, mug halfway to his lips, then finished the sip. He hadn't known that. It gave him pause. He was uncomfortable with seeing a beautiful woman put casually in harm's way, though SHIELD seemed to think nothing of using Natasha as a fighter. A damn fine fighter, he had to admit. A memory of Peggy flashed through his mind and was gone.

The coffee was good. "You could stay. Be a part of this team. You could be an asset."

"How's that?" A hint of bitter spiced Bruce's tone. "You can wind me up and point me at a bad guy, but you can't control what the Other Guy does. He might as easily attack the team. He certainly doesn't think about civilians."

Steve winced. Despite the police's evacuation efforts, there had been a tremendous number of civilian casualties of this battle, and yes, some of them were Hulk's. Vastly more of them were Loki's and the alien army's. He leaned forward. "Proportional force. We each have our strengths. Yours is pretty incredible. No one is sending you after purse-snatchers. But when our planet—" now he did sound like Buck Rogers, "our very planet is under attack by an overwhelming force, we need you. This could happen again. And there will be casualties, but these are not battles we can afford to lose."

Bruce was shaking his head, half a skeptical smile on his face.

Steve leaned back. "You know what, Bruce? You did great today." The utter disbelieving look that drew from Bruce assured Steve he was saying the right thing. "You did. I don't just mean that you knocked Chitarri heads from 39th to Park, I mean your Other Guy fought as a team member. I don't know how much you remember, but you saved Stark when he fell to earth."

"I did? I mean, he did?" Bruce still looked startled.

"Yep. And that's not all. You transformed on demand. I didn't know you could do that. It wasn't in your file. And you knew good guys from bad. You stood peacefully with us while we made plans, and when I told you to go smash, you did, and you didn't start with us." Steve decided to skip over Thor's joking complaints that Hulk had punched him through a wall for no reason. Thor could take it. He'd just have to establish some team protocols for fighting near the Hulk.

Wide-eyed, Bruce drank in his words. Geez, it had probably been a long time since the guy had heard anything good said about him. "You stayed with Tony while we tried to revive him. According to Natasha, you're the one who slammed Loki senseless. She says you whipped Stark's floor" he pointed up above them "with that 'god' like he was a rag doll." Steve let his genuine admiration into his tone.

The longing in Bruce's eyes faded, shuttered in. "I can't stay," he said quietly.

Steve studied his coffee mug. "Where will you go?"

"I don't know. I just keep moving."

"Why?"

"Whoever is around me is in danger. The longer I stay somewhere, the greater their danger. Statistically, I mean. If I move around, the risk is spread equally."

Steve blinked. "Statistically."

Bruce's shoulders slumped. "It's my latest approach," he admitted.

"After trying suicide."

Bruce wrinkled his nose. "It would solve a lot of problems, but no. I'm not generally suicidal. It's just – it seemed the right thing to do."

Steve had to agree. It had to be tried, but he wasn't sorry it didn't work. Besides … "Well, I'm not the one to criticize." He shrugged and smiled.

Bruce was quick. "Oh, yeah." He saluted with his mug. "We should form a club."

Steve raised his eyebrows. "Actually, that's what I'm saying. We should. And we need you."

"'Captain America wants you!'" Bruce announced, joking, but he had a touch of the same half-dazed look Steve had seen on countless fans struggling with the reality of their hero being live and in the flesh.

Steve chuckled. He hadn't expected it from Bruce. "You're thinking of Uncle Sam."

Bruce ducked his head, but not before Steve saw a genuine smile.

"Stay?" he asked. "I'm sure Stark won't admit it, but he could use your help dismantling that thing on the roof and getting the tesseract out safely."

Bruce looked up without lifting his head, still smiling. "I could stay that long."