ysabetwordsmith: (Schrodinger's Heroes)
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This story fills a square on my card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This fest encourages the creation of boundary-pushing material that explores what happens when things go horribly wrong and people actually care about each other. Remember, things always go wrong; what matters is how you deal with that. Some of the content may be NSFW. Read the FAQ and rules here. The signup post is here. I'm hoping to attract some new readers.

The following story belongs to Schrodinger's Heroes, featuring an apocryphal television show supported by an imaginary fandom. It's science fiction about quantum physics and saving the world from alternate dimensions. It features a very mixed cast in terms of ethnicity and sexual orientation. This project developed with input from multiple people, and it's open for everyone to play in. You can read more about the background, the characters, and a bunch of assorted content on the menu page.

This is a crossover with the Hulk from The Avengers. So it doesn't match up exactly with the various Hulk movies, and Bruce Banner is played by Mark Ruffalo. The storyline goes into alternate-universe mode after the lab accident while Bruce is running from General Ross but before Bruce meets any of the Avengers. Read the beginning of the Schrodinger's Hulk storyline in "Safe Keeping."

Skip to Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12.

Fandom: Hulk / The Avengers / Original (Schrodinger's Heroes)
Prompt: Nervous Breakdown
Medium: Fiction
Wordcount: 13,000
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: References to child/domestic abuse in Bruce's childhood and further mistreatment by General Ross later. Reference to minor character death, in that Bruce's father murdered Bruce's mother. No other standard warnings apply.
Summary: Bruce struggles to adapt to a new dimension that is almost like his home dimension. The trouble is, no matter where you go, there you are with yourself; and when your key problems are internal rather than external, there's no way to run away from them. Unexpected aspects of Bruce's identity shake things up for him. Ash and Quinn help Bruce start figuring out how to untangle the whole mess.
Notes: Angst. Fractured identity. Dealing with loss. Coping mechanisms (functional and dysfunctional). Trust issues. Survival issues. Control issues. Paranoia (justified and otherwise). Friendship. Family of choice. Sex/gender crisis. Safe places. Comfort food. Nonsexual intimacy.

"Two Spirits, One Past" Part 1

Bruce stared out the window, half a cup of catnip tea slowly cooling in his hand. The Texan landscape spread out in swaths of emerald and umber. Soft sand cradled the rough rocks. Brilliant sunlight reduced the shadows to slim dark crescents at the base of stems and stones. A patch of prickly pear cactus bloomed with petals of helianthin, tangerine, and vermilion. The desert was undeniably beautiful.

It was not his  desert, though, not even his world. Bruce had left all that behind when he chose to walk through the portal to escape the mess he'd made of his former life (and, not incidentally, to escape General Ross). It had worked; no one hunted him here. Yet it left him feeling weirdly dislocated in ways he could not articulate. Everything seemed the same, but was not.

He knew what that felt like, long since. The Other Guy stirred lazily inside him. Bruce froze, hardly daring to breathe. Then the Other Guy rolled over and went back to sleep. Incident averted. This time.

Bruce set the cup on the windowsill, then stretched with a sigh. The cotton shirt pulled and clung, drawing tight over his shoulders. It made his skin crawl, just a little. He preferred to wear his clothes loose. Beggars couldn't be choosers, though, and he was grateful for the borrowed garments. He'd gone with less and worse. He'd gone with nothing, no few times.

A deliberate scuff of boot against carpet caught his attention. Bruce smiled. Ash always did that, dragging one edge of her foot as she approached so that her cat-silent steps would not startle him. She had an odd way of walking, on her toes with her steps in a line, like a cougar. "Hello, Ash," said Bruce.

Ash leaned against the windowsill, the cuff of her plaid shirt riding up to flash an expanse of coppery forearm ringed by a wide silver bracelet stamped with tribal patterns. Something about the design reminded Bruce of stars and planets, or perhaps circuitry. "I'm driving into town," Ash said. "Care to come along? We could swing by the thrift store and pick up some stuff for you."

Bruce tucked his chin against his chest and shook his head. "No need to trouble yourself about me," he said quickly. He didn't want to go into town or interact with other people. He also didn't want to call attention to the fact that he had exactly no  money. The scrambag he had carried with him into this dimension held two complete changes of clothing plus some extras. He was content with one to wash and one to wear. Plus he still had his own as backup, worn near to rags though they were.

Ash gave him a solemn look. "I know you don't have much. You are going to need more than that around here -- things happen, stuff gets trashed," she said. "As I see it, these are your choices." She ticked them off on long, slim fingers. "One, you can shop by yourself in a town where you don't know how to find the kind of stores you like. Two, you can come with me and I'll show you; I saw what you arrived in, so I can make some educated guesses. Three, you can order off the internet or four, you can shop with Pat; but I'm thinking you'd prefer used to new and neither of those are optimum for that."

"Five, I can make do with what I have," Bruce said. "I'm fine. Really."

Now a twinkle of mischief sparked in her eyes. "Five, you can hold out until Alex loses her patience and decides to buy you an entire new wardrobe from --"

"I give," Bruce said, throwing up his hands. "I made the mistake of trying Alex's patience exactly once   back in college." That twinged, because this wasn't his  Alex either, for all she looked and sounded the same. She lacked the shared memories of being lab partners that Bruce recalled, but she protected him just as fiercely as if she had them. "I'll come with you ... but, ah, I don't know how I'm going to pay   for anything."

Ash handed him a bank card. "This draws on the petty cash account set up for random expenses here," she said. "Later you can talk personal budget with Bailey -- we could sure use your brain, so you've got a job if you want one, and that comes with pay."

Bruce had grown wary of charity because too many people had tried to trick him or trap him with favors. A job, though, that he could deal with -- at least until the Other Guy showed up to wreck everything. "Okay," he said.

They took the pickup truck, which was not new, but had the battered look of a sturdy machine that worked and would keep working despite whatever the world threw at it. Bruce admired that. He also wondered about it, because Alex had more than enough money to buy all-new-everything. Certainly she tended to dress well, and so did Pat; but Chris and Ash often scruffed around in old clothes. Much of the equipment in the compound was cutting edge, or even pre-market; but some of it was obviously older and Bailey puttered about fixing things instead of simply throwing them away. Perhaps time would tell.

In Waxahachie they ran errands, picked up a package, and stopped at a hardware store for spare parts. It looked like a sweet town, Bruce mused as he watched it roll by outside the window. The clock tower atop the courthouse was particularly photogenic, a Romanesque landmark made of red and cream stone. The town square even had businesses occupying most of its spaces, instead of standing half-empty like so many did today. Had done,  back in Bruce's world. He didn't belong in such a nice place. That pinched in ways he didn't care to examine too closely.

* * * 


Prickly pear is the official plant symbol of Texas, ubiquitous throughout much of the state.  This cactus has edible pads and fruit, and it blooms in shades from yellow to red.

This is the courthouse in Waxahachie, TX.

[To be continued in Part 2 ...]


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