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."

Begin with Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.  Skip to 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 4


That was new, since the accident. Bruce reveled in the peaceful atmosphere. The room was charming yet unfamiliar. The walls were pale blue with fluffy white clouds, touched here and there with peach and yellow. The floor was covered with cushions, most of them dusty blue or sage green. Ash sat on one in an odd shade of grayish rose. Amidst the cushions lay an enormous nest that seemed to consist of a featherbed laid atop a memory-foam mattress. Above it hung a mosquito net stretched over a hoop to drift down as a silvery tent, most of it currently swept to the side. The afghan bunched on the featherbed was striped pink and blue and white, like a baby blanket, although it was full size. Nothing in the room had sharp edges or corners or anything hard to bump against. It was all fuzzy cloth, gentle curves, and the muted colors of desert twilight.

"This isn't my bedroom," Bruce mused as he sat down on the edge of the nest. "What is this place?"

"We call it the soft room," Ash said. She stroked a hand over her velveteen cushion. "Saving the world can get really, really stressful. So we made this for ourselves as a safe space. Sometimes we come here to relax or meditate. Sometimes we come here to fall apart and pick up the pieces. Whatever we need."

It was infinitely better than waking up on a bed of rocks, or a muddy ditch, or a lab. Bruce shivered minutely. Or an actual padded room with a locked door. Somehow he knew without needing to test the handle that Ash had left this one unlocked for him. This room was soothing but not smothering. "Good idea," Bruce said. "I like it."

"You want me to shed some light on what I think went wrong in town?" Ash asked. "Or should I just leave it alone?"

Bruce considered that. Further discussion might rouse the Other Guy from his temporary indifference. It might also provide insights about how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. He dithered for a minute. At heart, though, Bruce remained a scientist. It was better to run the experiment and see the results. "Tell me," he said. "I just can't imagine how the cashier could've known what I am, unless you told him."

"What you are, indeed," Ash murmured. "Different tribes have different names for it, each in their own language according to their own customs, but now we mostly say two-spirits." She pulled her the black braid of her hair thoughtfully through her fingers. "You're not quite the same as what we're used to seeing, but the similarity is unmistakable. We consider them holy people."

Bruce snorted before he could help himself. "I'm sorry, that was mean," he said. "I shouldn't scoff at anyone's faith. I just don't believe in ... that kind of stuff. I'm a scientist."

Ash gave him a Mona Lisa smile. "And I'm not?" she said. Then she shook her head. "It doesn't matter. What does matter is that it shows -- sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in more conspicuous ones -- when a person has a more complex identity than usual. I'm no expert but I've seen that often enough to recognize it when it crosses my path. So has Dakota. I suspect it was the purple sweater that gave you away, though it could've been a combination of smaller clues."

"So he doesn't really know ... about the Other Guy ... I just remind him of something he's seen before?" Bruce asked. Ash nodded. "Okay, I guess." Then he frowned. "Why did he call me cousin, though? I look nothing like him, or you."

"Well, that part really is my fault," Ash said. "I didn't say anything out loud, but I did make a point of bringing you into the store with me. Dakota knows that I count the folks here as part of my family, so he mentally added you to that list. He assumed that, since you're with me and I know about two-spirits ... not to mention that Quinn's part of this team too ... therefore you must know what you're about. Which you don't yet, but that doesn't always show as soon as the rest. What Dakota said, he meant as respect and welcome, a way to let you know that you can be yourself around him."

Bruce buried his face in his hands. "I must've really upset him, running out of the store like that," he said. People tended to take that sort of thing badly.

"Hoh, yeah," Ash said heavily.

"I suppose I should apologize to him," Bruce said.

Ash's eyebrows went up. "Bruce," she said carefully, "Dakota spent an hour on the phone apologizing for upsetting you when I took a break from watching you so I could eat supper. Then he drove out here to drop off the clothes we bought. You'll have a little work to do, if you want to settle that relationship, but it's going to be in the direction of reassuring Dakota that he didn't offend or hurt you." She looked away, but added, "That sort of offense can bring bad luck, or perhaps you might think of it as a reactive force -- you push and the world pushes back."

Bruce sighed. He'd had entirely too much experience with the world pushing back. He didn't want to leave someone else feeling subject to that, even if it probably was superstition. "I guess I could talk to him," Bruce said, "or maybe ... write a note or something. Later. I'm not really up to dealing with that yet."

"Whenever you're ready," Ash said.

Just then, the door opened quietly and Quinn peeked in. When he saw Bruce sitting up, he grinned. "May I come in?" he asked. His milk-pale skin contrasted with hair that was (today) a rich shade of teal.

The smell of breakfast spoke loudly of Quinn's reason for coming. "Please do," Bruce invited.

Quinn shouldered the door open and carried in a heavy tray. He set it down on one of the firmer cushions. There were thick, fluffy pancakes and a pile of sausages. Cantaloupe slices filled a bowl of their own. A dish of butter stood between two leaf-shaped bottles of genuine maple syrup, one a pale gold and one darker. The orange juice was in a screw-top bottle but it had a fresh-squeezed look -- Bruce could see pulp swirling in it.

It had been a long time since food that good had been a regular option. Bruce put a pancake on his plate, hesitated, then took a sausage.

Ash immediately added another pancake and a slice of cantaloupe to Bruce's plate. "Don't short yourself," she said firmly as she forked four pancakes onto her own plate.

"There's plenty more where this came from," Quinn said. He wrapped a pancake around a sausage, somehow securing it so that it did not unroll. Then he doused the little package with golden syrup. "Want some?" He held out the bottle toward Bruce. "This is my private stock, all the way from Quebec."

Bruce accepted the bottle and dribbled a thin stream over his pancakes. He set the bottle back on the tray. The first bite was almost overwhelming, as sensitive as his taste had become after the accident. Sunlight and caramel over deep rolling woodsy notes. Bruce closed his eyes in bliss.

Sweet, the Other Guy said suddenly. So good.

Bruce startled, but there was no malice in the gravelly voice this time. The Hulk was actually licking his fingers. Something twinged in Bruce's chest as he realized that this was the first time he could recall the Other Guy enjoying something.

Then he realized that he had his fingers in his mouth like a greedy toddler, and it startled him all over again. Though perhaps it shouldn't have, because after all, how else would the Other Guy have fingers to lick? Sheepishly Bruce pulled his left hand away from his mouth and reached for his napkin.


[To be continued in Part 5 ...]

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-07 05:16 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yay. Something NICE for Hulk. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-03-07 05:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] labelleizzy.livejournal.com
And to be honest, something nice for Bruce as well. Damn, that "presumptuous" nearly made me cry.

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