[pen-juh-luhm, pen-duh-]


1. used to refer to the tendency of a situation to oscillate between one extreme and another.

In retrospect, Tony could have used his time in detention to look back in regret on what had landed him there. In all honesty, he tried, but it was a lost cause. Plus Ms. Barnes was getting visibly annoyed with his stifled laughter by now. 'Hard to regret it when it's still funny,' Tony rolled his eyes in her direction for what felt like the hundredth time. It wasn't his fault that old fossil picked the short straw and got stuck monitoring detention that afternoon. Sure it was his fault he was in here, but it was her fault she was a teacher. And really, which one of them was supposed to be old enough to know better?

In Tony's defense, it was a pretty sweet performance, even if it did get cut short. Setting up the PA system to play Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall" might not have been the most original idea ever, but from the moment he'd stood up on his chair and hopped up onto the stage, all eyes in that auditorium were on him... and he loved it. He'd just started to get the rest of the crowd shouting back the chorus, when the song cut off with an audible pop and he was spun around to meet eyes with Coach Bennett, his prick of a gym teacher. He didn't seem too pleased.

'Can't understand why.' Tony thought flippantly, 'People actually paid attention to a school assembly for once.'

At the moment he was seated at the front of the classroom, in the far right desk, scrawling some grafitti into the aged surface of his desk and making eyes at a platinum blonde with too much eyeliner about two desks to his left. She was smacking her gum and eyeing him shamelessly. She wasn't really his type, in fact with the hair and the eyes she reminded Tony of a raccoon in a tube top, but it was always nice to know he hadn't lost his touch. Not like he ever would.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Banner guy about two seats back and to the left. This, in itself was noticeably out of the norm. That guy usually was as far from the front as humanly possible. Now driven by boredom and curiosity, Tony dismissed the raccoon chick and turned to face the guy. What was his name, Bruce? Either way, this should kill some of his time.

"Bruce, right? Hey. Tony Stark. Nice to meet me, I know. Likewise. Notice you moved up a couple seats. Just curious, to whom do we owe your miraculous integration into society?"

Bruce had been perfectly content to have his nose within the pages of Giancoli's 6th Edition AP Physics textbook that afternoon in detention. In fact, it was his preferred state. Uninterrupted, undisturbed, left to his own devices and given space. The utterance of his name broke this trend, and the young man lifted his eyes from the lines of 9-point text. He knew Tony Stark; there hadn't been a need for introduction (though the other teen had made it obvious he knew that himself with the very next sentence out of his mouth). It would have been much harder not to know Tony, what with his continuous show-offish behavior and pretentious, out-going nature around school. Unlike the majority of his classmates, however, Bruce was not impressed by the way he conducted himself. Entertained, possibly, on rare occassion. Impressed, no. Nor did he see much of a reason to indulge him.

"Your reputation precedes you," he responded flatly as his eyes returned to his book. "I'd hardly classify moving up two rows 'miraculous'." The teenager flipped the page with an air of disinterest. "I don't have to ask what happened to grace us with your presence," he added sarcastically. All in all, he'd admit it had been an amusing prank, you know, as far as pleas for attention went. Bruce knew he ought to leave well enough alone and simply go back to his reading, but if there was one person in this room (or the whole school for that matter) capable of giving Tony a run for his money in the brains department, it was him. He paused to look up at him again. "But I will ask, is it that you're actually concerned about the treatment of students in the public education system or that you want everyone to think you are?" He allowed an eyebrow to flick upward on his forehead and a ghost of a smile to deform his lips.

Tony had anticipated many different reactions, but he hadn't expected indifference. It reminded him of his old man. He swallowed back that bitter taste, pressing on. After all, this guy can't be completely indifferent if he bothered to answer.

"For you, yes, moving up two rows is a miracle." Tony responded, turning around to sit backwards, so he could address the guy face to face. "Aren't you usually brooding in the back corner with your textbook of choice? Ah. Speak of the devil." He reached over and plucked the textbook out of the bespectacled boy's hands. He took care to place his index finger in between the two pages the other was reading, before flipping it around to peek at its contents.

"I already finished this one. It's on the kindle back home. Don't worry, I won't spoil the ending for you." Tony said sarcastically, looking down at the text in his hand and pretending to flip through the pages. "You never did tell me why you switched seats. Kind of bad form to ask a question after dodging one." His eyes flicked back and forth between Bruce and his book, a playful grin spreading across his face.

Having his book taken away from him struck a nerve. His father's anger surged through his blood, to the point where he practically saw red, teeth clenching in his skull. It was what had landed him here- when three jocks made the poor (and incredibly cliché) decision to 'take his lunch money'. They hadn't anticipated being up against two years of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. From what he'd heard, they'd spent the day in the infirmary, and perhaps some sick and twisted part of him was proud to hear the linebacker's nose would never be the same.

His eyes narrowed on Tony's smug grin. This kid needed to be taken down a notch. Honestly, Bruce didn't care how many more detentions he had to stay after school to serve. The more the better. At least he wouldn't have to go home and listen to the beatings.

The teenager stood from his seat, and in two steps, he was over to Tony's desk. He seized the other student by the back of the collar and with a fluid motion, Bruce yanked him from his seat, tripping his legs out from under him. His back slammed hard into the filthy linoleum, knocking the air out of his lungs and leaving him gasping to get it back.

Bruce leaned down over him. "My regular seat is taken, genius," he growled before tugging his book out of Tony's grip.

"Banner!" the teacher's voice rang out sharply.

The dangerous pendulum between calm and his rage swung back to the other side. He readjusted the glasses on his nose. "Sorry, Ms. Barnes, just needed my book back," he explained, taking it and himself back to his seat. She may not have wholly believed that, but he knew she wouldn't dare mess with him either.

Once Tony regained his bearings and sat up, he shot a look at the the bastard who had so abruptly upended him. Sure, it wasn't the nicest thing he could have done to the guy, but it wasn't like he was trying to piss him off. Though the way those eyes lit up when he got angry. They were practically glowing for a second. Tony had never seen a rage like that before, and his more daring side was slightly intrigued.

"Thanks," he half-groaned, half-whispered as he made to stand up. In spite of any sense of self preservation he should have naturally possessed, he sauntered over to the desk where Banner had sat himself back down. Not breaking eye contact, he plopped down in the nearest desk and turned it to face the other boy, who seemed to be torn between subtly glaring back and picking up where he left off in his textbook.

Ms. Barnes looked like she might have said something if she wasn't so wary of both Banner's temper and Tony's family's influence over... well, pretty much everything really.

He paused for a breath and continued, "I mean, I know I'm a genius, but I enjoy hearing it every once in a while." He shot Bruce a slightly less conceited smirk (not by much), "No need for the emphasis, though, slugger."

Bruce had expected Tony to leave him alone after one good dump on his ass, so the fact that he persisted intrigued Bruce somewhat. Attributable, perhaps, to being a glutton for punishment as much as an attention whore. He gave a derisive snort at the other teen's remark on 'emphasis'- Bruce should have known the kid would thrive on it; that was his mistake. He wet his lips carefully. "I'll add emphasis where I think it needs it," he spoke lowly, giving the knuckles of his fists a crack.

"Alright, I get it." Tony held his hands up, trying to make it look like feigned surrender, but it came off looking almost like a flinch. He never dropped his signature smile, but it softened a bit. "Don't want you giving me a nose job too. Though I gotta hand it to ya, that was the second most entertaining thing that's happened all day."

"Hm..." Bruce acknowledged as he returned to the chapter on endothermic reactions. "I'll agree with you there... second after I threw you to the floor."

Tony couldn't help what happened next. In spite of himself, he found it impossible not to double over as he snorted out a short laugh. He was just lucky he caught himself before he fell out of his chair again.

"I had you pegged wrong. I guess there is a personality somewhere in there." He sighed out after he'd caught his breath.

Bruce's eyebrow lifted. "Admitting you could possibly have been incorrect? Guess I had you pegged wrong too." A sliver of a smile cracked his features.

"Banner! Stark! This isn't a chatroom!" Ms. Barnes interjected shrilly, causing Tony to bow his head slightly and Bruce to draw his book up in front of his face.

"Well screw us for trying to have an intelligent conversation..." Tony whispered in Bruce's direction, "Awkward, hostile, and potentially violent, but still the most intelligent I've had in this nuthouse."

Bruce shook his head; clearly Tony had never bore witness to the kind of violent 'conversations' he had. He shoved that thought to the back of his mind.

"X-Box?" Tony piped up suddenly, breaking him from his musings.

"Beg your pardon?" Bruce questioned the logical leap.

"X-Box," Tony repeated himself, his tone implying that he didn't need to elaborate, "do you play?"

Bruce shot him a look of 'Are you insane?' "I deck three jocks, and you think it's a good idea to invite me over to play rage-inducing videogames?" Half of him was incredulous, the other part... curious why such an invitation would be extended to him of all people. The last time he'd visited someone else's house, he'd broken their living room.

Tony tilted his head slightly, purposely missing the point, "Wii?"

Hitherto, Bruce's smiles had all been wry, but this time his lips twisted into an actual smile of genuine amusement, a half-chuckle working its way up his throat. He let his book rest on the table, drumming his fingers upon it thoughtfully. "I suppose you have a 56" plasma TV to play it on as well?"

"Just one," Tony responded, then raised an eyebrow in mock-confusion before continuing, "But why would you want to play in the kitchen?"

"Snacks?" Bruce theorized.

"Nah, we keep all the good stuff in the concession stand, next to the chocolate milk fountain." Tony said with obvious sarcasm.

Bruce snorted. "Sounds like Candyland," he mumbled. He couldn't recall when he'd last had a conversation last this long (even if Tony was doing the majority of the talking). Most of everyone had learned to leave him be and keep their distance. His eyes shifted to the clock on the wall- the minute hand indicated time for conversation was just about up.

"Ha. We bought those morons out last year. Didn't you read the article in Forbes?" Tony said trying to sound as snobby as possible as he continued, "Oh and the Clue mansion. It was on the market for cheap, considering someone died in there."

"Uh huh," Bruce responded in a disbelieving tone.

It's funny, most of Tony's classmates would have simply jumped at the opportunity, and here Bruce seemed to be more into their juvenile banter. Come to think of it, this was probably the first time in recent memory that Tony had been talking to a classmate rather than at them.

"Anyway, I'll order a pizza," he shrugged, just before the late bell rang signaling the end of detention. He picked up his bag and stood up.

Bruce's lips pursed; Tony seemed to be making plans before he'd even accepted. The kid may be amusing, but he wasn't worth his time. "Sorry. I've got night classes at the JC," he said as he slid his textbook into his backpack and zipped it shut. "Maybe some other time. I'm sure you can find someone else to ooh and ahh with your toys," he dismissed.

"But it's the afternoon," Tony remarked, gesturing to the clock on the wall, "It's not even dark yet."

He paused for a beat, and threw his arms up in mild frustration upon realizing in what the other was implying, "And I was kidding about the milk fountain, genius."

Bruce's eyebrow lifted at the mockery. "Takes one to know one." He put his bag on his shoulders. "I need to study," he said firmly- college credits didn't earn themselves. He looked at Tony over the top of his glasses. "Would've been easier if someone hadn't taken my book away."

Tony rolled his eyes. The guy was getting prickly again. Still he headed for the door so he could beat the other to it, leaning on the doorframe to block his exit just enough to make addressing him necessary to clear a path out.. "If you're actually busy I can't make you leave," He sighed out, eyes downcast.

Bruce's eyes narrowed down in irritation at the other teen barring his path.

"But," Tony piped in, holding his hand up as if to say 'But wait! There's more!'. "I can follow you around until you give me a rain check. And trust me, I can go at that for a while. The word 'no' and I don't get along too well, Bruce." Tony wasn't really sure why he was pushing this so hard. Maybe he was just curious how far he could push the other before he snapped and got angry again. Maybe he was just tired of going back to an empty room after school and wanted a distraction from it.

This kid was really getting on his last nerve. No way in Hell was he about to let some selfish, entitled prick boss him around. "Then try this on for size," Bruce growled. He shoved Tony back and out of his way, baring his teeth at him. "Get. Out. Of. My. Life." And with that he stomped off down the hall.

Tony felt the words more than he heard them, like taking a medicine ball to the chest, or swallowing down bile. It didn't matter if this was just some nerd with a chip on his shoulder that he'd only met five minutes ago. This jackass wanted to push Tony out of sight and mind, and he couldn't explain what possessed him to growl out at the young man's retreating back as he stomped after him.

"Hey asshole, hit me if you really wanna, but don't you fucking try to block me out! I don't just stop existing when it's convenient for you!" Tony stopped for just a moment, shocked at his words, before regaining most of his composure.

"Fuck it. I don't care. My ride's here. Thanks for wasting my time." Tony glared darkly, smoothing his hair back before turning heel towards the parking lot.

One might have noticed that Tony's phone hadn't buzzed or rang since before detention. In truth, his father's assistant had texted him between last period and detention, informing him that Howard Stark would be out on a last minute trip for work. She offered to send him a car, seeing as he'd left his at home anticipating a ride (and perhaps some recognition for the school assembly fiasco at the very least). He'd told her in great gruesome detail, where exactly his dad could park that car, before hanging up as crudely as he possibly could. The screen was broken now, but it was alright. He had spares.

He stomped off, no idea where he'd be going that night, but equally sure it would be nowhere near home.

Bruce's conscience ate at him the rest of the night. Normally he was quite adroit at pushing away his feelings with academics, but even as he buried himself in lecture and extensive note-taking, it wouldn't go away... like the buzzing of a tiny gnat in his ear canal. Bruce tapped the end of his pencil against his notebook with a frown. He might not want any friends, but he didn't need any enemies, and for that reason alone he recognized he should attempt to make amends with the other student and put them back on some sort of neutral ground. Let's face it, he'd let things get out of hand and over-reacted by getting physical.


Bruce shut his eyes, feeling the beginning of a migraine swelling between his temples; he slipped the pads of his thumb and forefinger beneath his glasses to push them against his eyelids. 'You're no better than your father...' he thought, looking back on the way he'd acted scornfully.

A few minutes later lecture came to an end and Bruce quietly put his things away and removed himself from the classroom. He trudged across campus to student parking where his moped was parked, fishing his keys out of his khakis to wearily stick them in the ignition. It was nearly eleven and he was dragging ass- he'd been up for seventeen hours after all and he was only accruing more as the night wore on. He put his helmet on and secured the strap around his chin, ignoring the increased throbbing sensation it caused within his skull. He really wished he had some Advil.

About ten minutes later he turned the corner onto his street. As soon as he pulled up to the curb, however, it felt like he had ingested lead. The lights in the downstairs were still on, incandescent light pouring out the front window onto the groomed lawn that failed to disguise the chaos within.

Which made this the second night in a row.

Over the puttering of his moped he could discern back-and-forth shrieking and yelling, too indistinct to make out the subject of the argument. He turned the throttle and stomped the gas pedal, pulling a hard fast U out of the neighborhood, putting as much distance between him and his house as fast as possible. He didn't stop until he'd reached the levee just outside of town. He stepped off his moped and let it fall onto its side in the dirt, tossing his backpack off his heaving shoulders. The teenager ripped off his helmet with trembling hands and threw it as hard as he could at the nearest tree trunk with a yell.

A short distance away, Tony, who was curled up skipping rocks into the levee, shot up straight at the sound of a yell and the loud crack of something hard hitting wood.

'Shit!' he thought with moderate panic, looking down at all the beer bottles littering the grass and mud beneath his bare feet, 'Busted.'

He made to stand up and grab his shoes, possibly sneak away unnoticed before some bumbling pig with nothing better to do came poking around with a flashlight. Unfortunately, in doing so, he knocked one of the unnoticed empties over, clanking into the other ones like a wind chime.

"Aw, Fuck me!" Tony groaned.

Bruce was slightly startled to discover he wasn't alone out on the levee. He frowned deeply, stooping to retrieve his helmet and holding it close. The voice sounded far too familiar for his liking. "Don't tell me..." he grimaced, walking in the direction of the source. Unfortunately, his ears hadn't deceived him. There, looking like the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights, was Tony Stark. And, he noticed, the whole area reeked like alcohol. His lip curled with distaste.

Tony's slightly glazed vision focused slowly, his reddened eyes taking in the features of the person in front of him. When he realized who it was, his hand went to cover his face as he groaned yet again. "Oh God dammit. It's you." He groaned once again, glaring at the familiar face, "I locked my keys in the house by mistake. I'm fine."

Bruce took stock of the situation pretty quickly. He set his jaw. "Save it for someone who's willing to buy your bullshit," he muttered, leaning over to grab one of the brown bottles by the neck. He knew Tony was lying through his teeth and doing a wretched job of it. Alcohol made anyone easy to read- Bruce had experience there.

"Go ahead. Take one. I don't care." Tony huffed, flopping backwards to lay down, then rolled over onto his side to face away from his hapless visitor, "I'll be over here leaving you alone. I was doing a pretty good job, you know... til' you followed me, I mean."

Bruce gave a snort and sat down in the grass, popping the cap off the beverage with his bare hands. "Shut up. You're drunk. You don't know what you're talking about." He took a swig, grimacing at the after-taste.

Tony didn't respond. He didn't really say anything for a little while. Long enough that one might have wondered if he hadn't fallen asleep. If he wanted to be completely honest with himself, Tony felt better now that there was someone there with him. Even if that someone was the last person he'd expect to be here in this place, at this hour. Unfortunately for him and his pride, he hadn't anticipated company, and he was in a fairly vulnerable state. Part of him really wanted to get out of this situation while there was still dignity left to salvage.

He let out a shaky sigh and he curled up a little tighter instead of rolling over to face the other. He preferred not to make eye contact right now. If the soreness of his eyes were any indication, then they were probably bloodshot as hell. He took another breath, then attempted to sound casual.

"My dad's a fucking asshole. Why are you here?"

Bruce gave another snort; he was willing to bet Tony's dad wasn't half the asshole his was. Rather than start that unnecessary competition, however, he took another low-blow at the intoxicated teen, "So you're telling me you come by it honestly?"

"I'm nothing like him!" Tony spat, almost reflexively, before pushing his anger back down, "At least assholes like you and me bother to do it in person." Tony muttered, punctuating it with a dark chuckle, realizing that's exactly what Bruce was doing. He rolled back onto his back, glaring at the sky with disdain, "And what about your dad? Does he dodge questions for a living?"

It was interesting to Bruce to see Tony snap at the accusation- familiar, perhaps. With the exception that Bruce had long since left the stage of denial, instead grasping helplessly at the slippery slope that inexorably led him towards personifying his old man through-and-through. He lifted the bottle to his lips, hesitating. He wasn't drinking to get violent, he told himself, he was doing it to dull his senses. "Atomic physicist," Bruce replied, answering the wrong question intentionally.

"Yeesh. That bad, huh?" Tony sat up with a low whistle, breaking his stargazing to count all the empty beer bottles on the ground. Yeah. That was gonna be one hell of a hangover in the morning. Thank God for the weekend.

Bruce's gaze slid over to the teen who had sat up. "I'd rather not talk about it," he said lowly.

"Are we making a list of 'rather not's now?" Tony turned to look at Bruce with a wry smirk creeping up the side of the corners of his lips. It was true, the subject needed changing, "Because I'd like to add being stalked to the list. For all you know I could have been skinny dipping." He tried to put on a face of irritation, but all those rough emotions were starting to get fuzzy around the edges, as his father's fancy imported ale had finally started to take effect. Tony grabbed another bottle, popping off the top with the opener on his keychain and taking a swig.

'Says the guy who threatened to follow me around,' Bruce thought to himself, but he stayed silent instead, figuring it wouldn't do any good to point out the blatant hypocrisy. His brow knotted when he heard the already overly-inebriated teen pop the top off another beer. Before Tony could down more than a swallow, Bruce reached over and yanked it away, spilling a portion across Tony's chest and the grass. "I think you've had enough," he said sternly, setting it far away from him. He shook his head, only now realizing just how many bottles there were in various states of finished and unfinished. "You honestly brought this many just for yourself?" he asked, somewhere between incredulousness and disapproval.

"Hey!" Tony sputtered, some of the liquid he hadn't managed to swallow spilling out of his lips. As much of a dick move as it was, Tony didn't do much to stop the guy. He had a hard enough time intimidating Bruce when he was sober.

"I hope you don't plan on wasting that." He griped, narrowing his eyes, already missing the taste. There went his only distraction. Slightly frustrated, he grabbed a handful of smooth stones and skipped them across the surface of the water one by one in an attempt to break up the reflection of the night sky.

They sat in silence for several minutes on the hillock, Tony skipping rocks while Bruce nursed his ale. Despite the animosity still lingering between them, it was... peaceful- the creek lazily lapping the banks as it ran by, the chirping and buzzing of the insect life drawn to the banks, the occasional croak of a toad, the breeze rustling the leaves of the trees and grass around them, and the steady ploop! ploop! each time his companion chucked another rock across the surface. Bruce felt a calmness gradually seep into him as he listened to all the elements, relaxing his body and mind alike. The sound of water always had a calming effect on him.

The teenager let his head bow. He'd resolved to set things right with Tony, hadn't he? Yes, he hadn't expected to bump into the other student until school next week, but the timing shouldn't negate his original intention. His lips drew into a tight line and he cleared his throat. "About earlier today..." he started.

Tony flinched, letting out an involuntary yelp. While not the most elegant of responses, after such a long silence he had all but forgotten he wasn't alone. His companion didn't have the most cuddly of dispositions either.

"Yeah I know. I'll leave you alone." Tony shot back, though it lacked any real fire at this point, "Just... please don't go telling the whole school you found me getting wasted here." He stared dejectedly at the ground below Bruce, still too proud to make eye contact.

Bruce lifted an eyebrow. Now that he'd essentially gotten what he wanted (Tony's agreement to leave him be), it was tempting to let the subject slide. But the note of hurt he heard in the other teen's voice managed to reach a deeply buried part of him. He shook his head again. "That's not what I was getting at. I wanted to say that I'm sorry. For being..." he wet his lips, considering his word choice, "mean." He wrung his hands. "I shouldn't have reacted the way I did." Finished, he looked over at Tony.

'Is this guy actually apologising? Go figure.'

"Don't worry about it. It's not all your fault." Tony shrugged, after a long wide-eyed pause, "From what I've heard, I can be kind of pushy. Consider those two free beers a peace offering." He chuckled out, before standing to shake the man's hand.

Well it would have been a stand, had his legs not given way under him, leaving him to wobble back down to the ground with a grunt. Not the most graceful way to reconcile, by any stretch of the imagination.

The other teen frowned at Tony's inability to so much as stand. He really had had enough to drink. Bruce glanced around, not seeing any modes of transport such as a bike that he might have used to get to the levee. "Did you walk here?" he asked just to make sure, though he was fairly certain of the answer.

Tony looked up at Bruce, his face reading 'no shit', before slurring slightly, "No, I flew."

Bruce shook his head. "Excuse me, smart-ass, I was asking if you needed a ride," he delivered as he stood and picked his helmet up off the ground, moving towards his moped.

"Pfft, S'all good." Tony yawned, making to stand once again with a sway, "I'm just a little sleepy is aaaah shit!" He shouted, stumbling yet again. He wasn't nearly as lucky this time, tumbling sideways into the water.

Bruce was facing away when he heard the loud splash. Blinking rapidly behind his spectacles, he turned to see the other teen sloshing about in waist-deep water, soaked and only making himself wetter with each flail of his arms as he tried to make his way to the shore. Despite his best attempts, Bruce couldn't keep a straight face, and he doubled over, holding his stomach as peels of laughter rumbled out his chest.

Tony eventually managed to hoist himself back onto dry land, morbidly embarrassed and wishing he could disappear. He probably would have remained in such a state if it weren't for the pleasant surprise in front of him. As far as he'd remembered seeing, Bruce rarely smiled, and he sure as hell had never seen the guy laugh. He allowed the corner of his mouth to turn up slightly.

"Yeah, fine. I'm a little tipsy." He said holding up his thumb and forefinger to symbolize how little, "Yeah you can gimme a ride." He sat up once again, staring down at his shoes and socks and contemplating exactly how he was going to get those back on. His poor intoxicated brain couldn't really work further or deeper than that at the moment. He just hoped this wouldn't prove to be the highlight of his weekend.

"Alright. Just don't fall off the back; I only have one helmet," Bruce teased, putting said headgear on and slinging his backpack back over his shoulders. He stooped to pick his moped up from the ground, frowning at the now broken side-mirror practically dangling off the handlebars. Great. He mounted the vehicle.

"Like... on the back?" Tony asked, confused. He slung his bag over his shoulder, having opted to just stuff the sneakers in his backpack. He didn't think he had the necessary motor skills to do everything that came with putting on a pair.

Bruce just lifted an eyebrow at him with a look of 'do I really have to answer that question for you?'

"Right, yeah, I just..." Tony stammered scratching the back of his neck awkwardly, "Yeah, sorry." He finished lamely, trying his best not to stumble the rest of the way, and plopping down on the back of the seat behind Bruce.

Bruce shook his head and waited for the inevitable next question out of Tony's mouth.

"Uhh... Bruce? What am I supposed to hold on to here?"

"Me," he elucidated with his typical terseness.

"That's what I thought." Tony said with a gulp, "Uhh don't get mad when I get your jacket wet."

"Least of my worries," Bruce mumbled. Deeming the conversation at an end, he fired up the engine, the loud sound echoing off the water and trees. He gave the moped a couple of revs, warning Tony that if he didn't get his arms around him in a hurry, he'd be landing on his ass in the dirt in a matter of milliseconds.

Tony, who had been hesitating up until that point, yelped quietly and wrapped his arms around the other's torso with a start. Bruce kicked them off and accelerated down the levee.

The ride was fairly silent, with Tony telling Bruce where to turn from time to time. He'd relaxed a little bit, allowing his dazed head to rest a little on the back of his companion. He would probably have over-thought it, but Bruce hadn't said anything, and he was warm and Tony was plastered. Big deal. Tony had been throwing an idea around in his head since he'd hopped on the back of the bike, but he wasn't sure how to go about asking.

"Hey Bruce?" He muttered.

The other teen heard him, but it was made difficult by the volume of the engine and air moving past them both. He turned his head to shout back. "Can't hear you!"

"Oh yeah, right." He laughed nervously and tilted his head upwards towards Bruce's ear, trying to speak louder, "I just wanted to say that the invitation, from earlier? It's still open. Not that I'm trying to show off or anything. It's just that the house is lo- uhh, empty, and I'm pretty sure that shit that you don't like to talk about'll be easier to avoid there. Unless that counted for talking about it or whatever. I mean it's a big house, you might not even bump into me if you try hard enough... And uhh... I dunno... could dry your jacket off..." His eyes were fixed on the passing street lights as he rambled on, trailing off at the end of his speech.

Bruce kept his gaze straight ahead on the road, remaining impassive. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the offer, but he couldn't accept it. If he didn't go back, who knew how much worse it would make things at home in the morning. The Stark Mansion came into view and Bruce pulled up to where the gated driveway met the street. "This it?" he said, not so much looking for clarification, but giving a note of finality this was where they would part.

Tony felt his stomach sink. Already? He sighed and nodded against the other's back. "Thanks." He hadn't made a move to let go or stand up yet, and part of him was kind of dreading the chill of solitary again.

"Sure thing," Bruce responded.

Tony let out a long sigh. He can't remember ever growing this dejected in such a short amount of time. And Bruce didn't seem to be getting it, so if he had to spell it out for the other, he would. He could always blame it on the booze later.

"Look, if there are things keeping you from staying around, then it's cool, this was fun. In a psychotic, insulting, embarrassing, after-school-special kind of way..." He finished unsure, as he stepped off the bike finally, offering a hand to the other, "As I said before, empty house this weekend... uhh, maybe we could shoot for tomorrow afternoon, skip to the part where we actually have fun?" He was smiling a little more like his confident self now, but his voice was still more hopeful than sure.

Fun. That was a word that had been erased from his vocabulary a long time ago. Not that Tony could comprehend that even if he tried to explain it to him. Bruce shook his head. "Good luck with your dad; see you Monday." He pushed away from the curb and sped off, leaving the other student behind and telling himself the distance was for the best.

"Yeah, yours too!" Tony shouted back to the student, who may have already been out of earshot. He shrugged it off as best as he could and headed inside. He felt slightly put off near the end there, but he was pretty sure for once it wasn't his fault Bruce had pushed him away. He had said he'd see him Monday, hadn't he? That's a big step up from 'stay the fuck out of my life', so maybe things weren't so bad. Still, this weekend was going to suck by himself. Whatever. His feet were getting cold. With a shiver, he reached into the pocket of his soaked jeans for the keys to the front door. It was time to dry off and get some sleep.