He holds onto the anger that General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross gives him. It's a familiar anger. It's the root of all his problems, of the situation he must now live with. It's a constant anger that is set at a low simmer. You see, Bruce Banner absolutely resents the general. There's nothing General Ross can do that will take that away, even if he wasn't a stubborn old military man.
It's incredibly ironic and Bruce laughs to himself whenever he thinks about it. The universe sure has a sense of humor, because the one thing that Bruce uses to control himself is the reason why he's like this in the first place: cursed and persecuted.
He's developed wanderlust now. SHIELD keeps the military away, which Bruce is grateful for. However, it's a sign that SHIELD wants him close by for the next disaster that strikes. But he can't. Sitting still in one place for too long makes him feel itchy; it makes him feel trapped. Even Tony tries to get him to stay, giving him a private tour of the parts of the Stark Tower that haven't been demolished. "Sorry about the viewing deck," Bruce had apologized.
Tony had scoffed. "That's like saying 'I'm sorry for incapacitating a psycho alien and saving the world.'" Tony might irritate Bruce at times, keeping that anger bubbling softly, but it's a bit comforting to be in the presence of someone who is so blasé about his condition.
SHIELD has also cleared any blacklists he is on. He's even been issued an ID card and passport that basically grants him access to any country in the world. Bruce takes it as a yield: "Fine, we'll let you go on your trips to the most remote places of the planet."
Tony is more of a "You gotta come back for like three months. Three months of a whole year and then you can go back to your bungalow in the middle-of-nowhere." Bruce carefully agrees. It does seem a waste if he doesn't utilize Tony's resources. "Also, you've got your own room," Tony adds before Bruce leaves for the airport. "Floor, actually."
"Seems like a waste if I won't be here."
He's currently in Indonesia. Medical treatment helps him balance his life. Ravage New York City, save some people. An eye for a crystalline lens something like that- since there's the concept of reconstruction and a nifty scientific innovation called cataract surgery. It's not quite Hammurabi, Bruce deduces.
Bruce isn't stupid; he knows that SHIELD tracks him. Each time he flashes the ID and it gets scanned, each time he hands in his passport at customs, a little blip shows up on SHIELD's radar. They keep their distance as they monitor him.
He's dubious that SHIELD would ever voluntarily hand that information over to Tony though. More likely than not, Tony hacked SHIELD's database. Regardless, he gets a note on his bed when he returns to his dingy room.
He has no idea how Tony even left the note. Friend of a friend? Did Pepper arrange for something? At least he was respectful enough not to forcibly drag him home. Tony might as well have though, because he likes to play dirty. If this were any other project, Bruce would let it pass. But the Tesseract. Even if it is useless to them now
That's how Bruce finds himself in the state-of-the-art laboratory with holograms of the data surrounding him. "Wow," he manages.
"Yeah," Tony gleams. "This is so cool."
"You look like you've found a new element."
"I did actually," Tony casually responds. "Well, sorta."
Science consumes him, as it always does. There's something comforting in numbers, equations and algorithms. There are constants; there are steps for the "what ifs." Most days Tony analyzes and runs tests alongside him, in the same lab. Other times he's out doing press conferences, leading tour groups much to Pepper's chagrin. Tony's way of interacting with people wasn't something the general public took a liking to.
Today, however, Tony's in the lab with him. "What if we changed the parameters?" Tony suggests.
"We did," Bruce replies. "It's the energy signature. Some of these readings don't match anything on Earth."
"Most likely." Bruce muses as he stares at the screen.
"I can hack NASA," Tony supplies.
"We'll probably need an entire crew in space, not a bit of data from moon missions," Bruce jokes, "if we want to find out how the Tesseract sustains itself."
"I can build a ship," Tony says confidently.
Just then, the heavily-reinforced steel door begins to slide open and Pepper's voice floats through the ever-increasing doorway. Bruce is confused though. Tour groups made up of potential investors and university doctors don't come to his lab when it's occupied. Bruce turns to look at Tony who gives him a blank look. He turns on a small glare and Tony immediately puts his hands up. "Okay wait. If you're going to get mad, give me five minutes to dash out of here?"
Bruce is about to answer when he hears someone call his name.
His head turns, his eyes trying to pinpoint the origin of the voice and when he finds it- Tony Stark is a fucking bastard. He's a lucky bastard too. Lucky that Bruce respects and somewhat admires him, because if he didn't, they might have to take the jet out to a New Mexico desert where the Other Guy might indulge in some combat training with Iron Man.
"Betty." It's not a question. More of a statement, a dull deadpan. He suddenly realizes that Pepper has betrayed him, because there is no way that she never knows what is going on at the tower. Her tablet and JARVIS keep her up-to-date on the tower's state.
Pepper quickly ushers the others away from the door and towards the large elevator, presumably to the next stop of the tour, the largest R&D lab.
"Bruce," Betty whispers again. She runs up to him and envelops him in a hug. It's a familiar gesture. Familiar like General Ross, but warm and comforting. Calming.
Betty always calms him. It might not be best given his current method of self-control, but he's never had a freak incident around her unless there were crazed fathers present and guns blazing. He wraps his arms around her, breathing in the scent of her shampoo and faint perfume.
Tony takes this as an opportunity to escape. "We'll need to talk, Tony," Bruce says as Tony tries to slip out unnoticed.
"Hey, who's the one building our spaceship?"
Betty pulls back. "You're building a spaceship?" she asks, eyes blazing with wonder. He misses that about her, the enthusiasm.
"Um, no. Credit goes to me," Tony interjected. "Also, out of the kindness of my doomed and partially-mechanical heart and also to get you to stop moping about- I just reunited you with your long lost love, watched as you ran across a field and leapt into each other's arms. Don't forget, spaceship." With that, he slips out and the door closes.
"A few of us from Culver came," Betty explains gently, taking Bruce's hands. "They wanted to know what Stark's new inventions were. I didn't know you were in the country."
"Just came back actually."
"I saw you on TV, but you didn't visit."
"Mmmm, Arlington," Bruce grimaces. "Not exactly my friend."
Betty smiles and she presses her lips to his. The kiss is soft and reassuring and, again, familiar. "Are you staying?" she asks when they pull apart.
He wants to tell her yes, that he's staying for good and forever, but he can't. The wanderlust is still there. He doesn't know when it will stop. Maybe he'll try traveling less, or for shorter periods of time, until he just stops all together. Maybe that method won't work at all and he'll only be here for three months out of an entire year. Maybe he'll settle for something in the middle. He doesn't expect Betty to understand and he can't let her hopes down just yet.
"We'll see," he answers.
In the end, Tony doesn't actually build the spaceship. SHIELD does draw the line somewhere and even Tony Stark can't get out of having to adhere to the SHIELD's rules. It's SHIELD's vessels or no data at all.
The wanderlust fades, very slowly and just slightly. With the reappearance of Betty in Bruce's life and the way Tony has roped him into Stark Industries, Bruce realizes he has obligations in America. So he makes it less about running away and more about helping others. In the end, he's gone for a quarter of the year not all at once though. He'll stay in Tony's lab no longer than three months before he hops on a plane to the next impoverished place on his list, stay for a month or so, and then go back to New York. He might miss Thanksgiving, but at least he's there for Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's. He never feels guilty when using Tony's money to purchase medicine to take with him. It's good press for Tony and healing for Bruce.
He supposes that it's better than nothing, the routine he eventually settles into. Betty still has her position in Virginia, 300 miles south of Midtown, and the distance is hard, but everybody knows that Tony loves to flaunt his wealth, so whenever Betty wants to visit, he sends the private jet.
"I insist," Tony had said, with a little wave of his hand, when Betty had protested that she could drive or buy her own plane ticket. "Someone's gotta make sure he eats and I am not a supernanny."
"Don't fight him," Pepper had mouthed from behind Tony.
With the research, Bruce eventually takes up residence on the entire floor Tony gave to him. "Secure and everything," Tony assured. "Eye-scan security for all the residence floors. It will only accept us the Avengers- plus Pepper and Betty and anyone else I decide to program in."
It turns out Tony went a little overboard with the desire to always build and ended up styling floors for all the members of the team. "Are you expecting a sleepover?" Steve asks one day.
Tony looks up in horror.
Pepper and Betty can't stop laughing. Clint and Natasha don't hide the smirks on their faces. Bruce just smiles. Things will never be perfect. The Other Guy is still around. The anger is still there, along with the everyday pain of life, but it's a start towards the unattainable goal that is normalcy.