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, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.  Skip to 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 8

"I've had longer to think about it, yes," Quinn said. "You know you never have to deal with anything by yourself, right? You can ask any of us, at any time, for whatever help you need. We'll do whatever we can for you. If you need something we can't provide, we'll find someone else who can."

Bruce was absolutely not used to that kind of consideration. It had blindsided him utterly in college, the way Alex shared her resources and her time with such casual grace. That had given him enough of a glimpse to recognize the same in Betty when she offered it, but still ... those were two islands of acceptance in a wide deep sea where he had to be self-sufficient or drown. Yet here was Quinn, steady behind him, holding him up as Bruce's breathing gradually slowed down.

"Okay," Bruce said. "I don't have anything to ... experiment with, though, except for this t-shirt."

"You do, actually," Quinn said. "Dakota brought over some things just in case, once he figured out that you're pretty new to this. He left them for me and Ash to mention, or not, as the occasion seemed to fit."

Bruce thought about it. The possibility made him nervous, and he struggled to keep his heart rate down. The Other Guy still wasn't wrestling him for control, but Bruce didn't dare rely on that. It never lasted.

Try, came the inward whisper, as gently as the Hulk had ever said anything to Bruce. It was disconcerting and comforting at the same time.

Bruce scraped up his courage and said, "Let's try it. Just in here. I don't want to deal with other people."

"Of course," Quinn said. "I'll be right back." He stood up and walked to the outer door.

Bruce leaned back on his hands and tried not to miss the reassuring weight of Quinn's spine supporting his own.

The soft click of the latch heralded Quinn's return. "Would you like me to lock the door this time?" he asked.

"Yes, please," Bruce said. The lock clacked into place.

"All right, here you go," Quinn said. He offered Bruce a green canvas bag.

Bruce carefully emptied the bag onto the bed. Four dresses unrolled. He felt something in him relax a little as he looked at them. There was nothing threatening there, no fuck-me scarlet or frilly lace. The first was a fuzzy gray sweater dress. The second was a classic little black dress in sleek linen. The third was plain navy, some kind of polyester blend, a nice everyday dress that nobody would look twice at.

The fourth stood out from the others, a soft bright heather. On closer inspection, Bruce could see strands of pink and blue among the true purple, intricately knitted into a misty lavender fabric a little thicker than his t-shirt. Long sleeves ended in ribbed cuffs like a sweatshirt. The skirt flared out a little, short enough to be convenient but long enough to be modest. The belt was a darker aubergine.

Bruce fingered the supple cloth. The color wasn't as loud as the purple sweater he'd gotten because the Other Guy wanted it. Bruce could live with this soothing, cheerful shade. He poked at the dress, trying to figure out how to get into it. He never had understood much about Betty's clothes. When she wasn't wearing lab coats, she liked lovely elegant things with about a million little buttons and hooks and zippers that always befuddled his fingers.

"Here, it goes on just like a t-shirt," Quinn said helpfully. He rolled up the dress in his hands and tucked his thumbs through the neck, holding it in a loose tube. Then he offered it to Bruce.

Bruce let his breath out, slowly, focused on remaining calm. He shucked off his t-shirt and took the dress. The lavender fabric fell down around him, soft and loose the way he liked, just longer. It felt familiar and unfamiliar, at the same time.

"Am I supposed to feel different?" Bruce asked plaintively. He held his hands out to the sides as he looked down at himself.

"You feel what you feel," Quinn said. "Belt now." He wrapped it deftly around Bruce's waist and tied half a bow, offset over one hip.

That felt different, all right. Bruce sucked his breath in. He never wore belts because they tended to pinch horribly when the Other Guy got out. He hadn't liked them before then either, though, he realized all of a sudden. The snug touch made him feel somehow exposed. Bruce got a creeping suspicion that maybe Quinn was right about the way he dressed, and why.

"You're fine," Quinn assured him. "Look, I tied a panic knot. Pull here and it comes right off." His hands framed Bruce's hips -- eerily reminiscent of the Other Guy's commanding grasp, though far gentler -- and then Quinn pressed the longer tail of the belt into Bruce's fingers.

Bruce pulled, and just as promised, the belt fell free. It was nothing like the stiff leather belts that came with men's pants. This was the same soft, stretchy cloth as the dress, just dyed a deeper color. That was nice. He could live with that.

"Okay," Bruce said. "Show me how that works."

Quinn showed him. Then he untied the belt and made Bruce tie it. Simple enough to do, and yet it moved through him with unexpected force.

Bruce ran a restless hand through his damp hair. He felt a little off-balance, not quite normal, yet nothing he could pin down either. There was ... a stretch, kind of, in some indefinable inward place that was not the Other Guy. The closest thing he could think of was the awkward attempt at a new yoga pose, same body bent in a different direction and faintly protesting the change.

"I should do something about this," he muttered, tugging at the wild curls drying into tangles.

"Allow me?" Quinn said, as he fingered one of the larger knots.

"What, why?" Bruce said. "I just need a comb, is all."

"And five minutes later it will look like you never touched it," Quinn said. "Come on, you've seen what I can do with mine. Humor me, and trust me with yours."

Bruce rolled his eyes at Quinn's hair, which currently fell in wide blue-green waves to his shoulders. "Whatever."

"Sit on the floor next to the mattress," Quinn said as he got up.

[To be continued in Part 9 ...]


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