|An Unexpected Gift|
|What: A chance meeting between 4 people on the run leaves a new bond and a new friendship.|
Monday morning, a little grey but warm and pleasant. The Cuckoos know that Laura's gone off to kick ass and take names for a while. The thread of thoughts that connects them shimmers with happiness as she's punching bikers. That's what wakes them up. It's lovely to wake up to that kind of thing.
|"Let's go to the big park."| There's only one big park worth mentioning. |"We can give away more money."| They have way too much, still.
No one notices them getting onto a bus in Gotham or getting off in New York, no one sees them on the subway though many people will mysteriously find a bit of extra cash in this pocket or that pocket tonight. They ghost through the city until they get to the big park.
Near the water, Sophie sits down on a bench to check the news on their phone while Phoebe and Esme wander the paths nearby. Their gestalt mind sweeps the area, searching as always for anyone who might harm--or help--them.
For any mind searching, the distant is not too far. The bench Sophie sat on was the same as the bench that another person was at, who was completely unaware of her presence. Part was due to her influence, but part was due to Bruce Banner working on his computer, figuring out some notes on his latest attempt to rid himself of his... problem. He would hope that this new formula would help do the trick, but he's been wrong every time before. But with the recent new experiments he had tried, there was a bit of hope of curing the trace of any gamma radiation. But there was a block, they only cured so much.
Bruce shakes his head, wondering just how long he would suffer this hell. He misses the time he spent at his old... life, as a scientist, as a man. He misses family, friends, one in particular. Maybe after all this, maybe things can go back... Can they? Even if he cured himself, and could never change again, could things ever be the same? Could he ever have that same life? These were the things putting him in turmoil, that he may never escape the curse that is the Hulk.
The girls don't miss their old life, but they know about sacrifice and loss. A complex mind in turmoil--especially troubles they understand--easily piques their curiosity and, maybe, their compassion. |"Another intelligent one."| |"How do we find them so easily?"| |"Perhaps we are simply ready to see."|
Sophie rises silently and passes the phone off to Phoebe. |"Pretend we don't see him. He expects to be ignored."|
A tall, beautiful blonde girl--just one--engrossed in her new Stark phone sits down on the same bench as Bruce. She's wearing a modest summer dress, no cosmetics at all. If Bruce looks her way, she gives him a quick, shy sideways glance, then goes back to her phone.
Bruce gives a heavy sigh, and stops working. He shuts his computer and puts in his backpack before he gives into frustration and throws it away. He has so many doubts now about being here, and wonders if he should just escape and live in seclusion. He wondered why he was still doing this, will this change anything? Part of him was hopeful, but part of him was skeptical. He made too much of an impact in the world for anything he does will make it forget him.
He stops and takes a look around, taking in some deep breaths. He wonders just how many lives here are normal, and just how many are simple facades. Perhaps both. But one thing he catches on is that he's not alone on his bench. He does turn to see a...nother attractive blonde just next to him. She looks beautiful, while he is just in his jeans and plaid shirt, with beard, blue cap, and shades. Not much to look at hin his case, but the girl gives him a glance anyway. He gives a silent nod, before facing forward and slumping in his seat. 'What am I doing here...?'
"Do you know anything about these phones?" Phoebe asks sweetly, turning to Bruce. |"If we knew they'd be so useful,"| Sophie says to her sisters, laughing, |"we'd have gotten one ages ago."|
"I was trying to move that bird game," Phoebe explains, giving Bruce her best wide-eyed 'I am a little lamb, please help me' look. "So I wouldn't keep playing it. But then it disappeared and I can't find it. Did I break my phone?" She dropped the icon into a group, easy enough to claim she lost it--if she were a little ditzy.
'I am such a chick magnet these days...' Bruce muses. However, this is more with regret, as he can hardly see a future with anyone, without tragedy. But he is still the gentleman, and moves in a bit to help her. "Sure, if I could take a look at it."
Bruce receives the phone from her and makes a few moves while on it. "Well, you have the icon right here... and all you have to do is press here, and then here, and then... there you go, you have it on your top screen." He gives her a small smile. "It's a bit easy to get lost in these, but they are made to be easy to use, so hopefully you should be able to do this fine next time, and not be forced to ask strangers next time..." He cave a small chuckle at the end. He hoped he didn't seem to creepy, but this girl seems pretty self-assured. And the fact that she was asking him was a bit... suspect. But perhaps Bruce is just paranoid; not exactly a bad thing, these days.
"Thanks." Phoebe gives Bruce a sweet smile. "That's kind, but I'm not worried about strangers. I'm here with my sisters, I just didn't want to admit that I lost another game... somewhere... in this tiny little thing that everyone on Earth but me can work." She wrinkles her nose at herself.
"Besides," Phoebe adds. "I think I have pretty good taste in strangers. Proof!" She points at him. "You're a decent guy, aren't you? I'm Phoebe." She holds out her hand.
Bruce returns the smile, and takes her hand. "Hi, I'm David. And thanks, it's not often I get complemented." Her hand felt nice and soft, just like... No, no point in remembering something so long ago. He lets go soon, at a time he felt appropriate. "And I wouldn't worry about the phone thing. It's not the worst thing in the world..." Bruce then looks around, and notices that although Phoebe said she's here with her sisters, she was the only one here with her features. "So, your sisters? Are they around?"
"Just there." Phoebe points and when Bruce looks again, there are two willowy blondes in the exact same shirt dress walking arm in arm along the path. "We don't always let people see who we are," she says to Bruce with a great deal of understanding in her tone. The ditzy blonde is gone, replaced by a strange serenity like a babbling brook suddenly becoming a deep, blue sea. "We have to be careful."
Bruce narrows his eyes, as his brain quickly comes into understanding at what just happened. Phoebe, the young woman, has just turned into... an entirely new being. And one look at her sisters told him that something was not quite right, as it was as if looking at exact copies, or clones. That told him much, and where others would have freaked out, Bruce's experience has temperred him to such experiences. He understood that she/they were not normal, and at the same time neither was he. Did they know...? Probably so. And yet, he sensed no threat in them.
Forgetting that others could see them, he let his guard down a bit. "I see. It would seem... we have something in common. I imagine you must know who I am, which puts me at a disadvantage. If I may be so bold, may as of who you... all are?"
The girls confer briefly outside anyone else's awareness. Though all three are now in proximity, no one seems to notice them, and they would certainly draw attention even alone.
"I'm Phoebe," the girl next to Bruce says. "That's Esme." The one on the right waves. "And Sophie." |"May we compliment you on your fascinating mind,"| they say at once. |"We didn't mean to intrude."| The other two sit gracefully near Bruce's feet. |"But you were thinking so deeply, so well, and we couldn't resist."|
Bruce could only stare, for the moment. This is a scientist's dream right now, to be so close to something so incredible. But as those things come across this mind, he couldn't help but wonder why they felt the need to hide, much of which was obvious. But then, knowing the environment the world is now, he knew these 'sisters' would not fit in. And then he felt such sorrow, as they would seem so young so as not to know much joy. Something like what his history was like.
"Uh, no apology necessary. I'll just have to keep my thoughts in close watch, so if you catch something... inappropriate, I apologize." He takes a deep breath as he realized they were telepaths, and could already tell what he was thinking. He didn't have the same mental protections as... the big guy, so he had to be more careful here. "And I thank you for the complement. But I do have to wonder, why come out to me? I mean, I'm flattered you can trust me. But why? You obviously can read my mind, so you must know there's more to me as well..."
"We're always looking for those who could be helpful," one of the girls seated on the ground says. "And don't worry about your thoughts. There's nothing you can think that would be worse than what we already knew years ago." The words ripple between them so that they don't speak in unison, but they do speak as one. "We understand that reciprocity is important in this world, so we shall share with you so perhaps you will help us some day."
|"We were made to do terrible harm."| Now, it's as though all three are speaking in his head. |"We were five."| |"We lost two of ourselves in the escape."| The sense of grief is nearly overwhelming. |"Now, we are broken."| |"And hiding."| |"In this strange world."| |"We cannot go back but we are not sufficient as we are."| |"To be free of the fear of being taken again."| |"So we need ...friends."| The word is still new and untested. |"Now you know us."|
'Broken...' A good word Bruce could use to describe himself. Usually, it describes whatever got in his way... But enough of that. Here, there are... three who seek friendship. Bruce was unsure of what he could offer, but he didn't think it would be bad to try. And after what they shared, he couldn't help but relate. Their sorrow... it is his sorrow. He too is in constant fear, and for one to know who he is, and to still accept...
"If there is anything we do need, it is friendship. Anything I can give, I will. I've been alone for so long, it hurts." Bruce looks distant now, remembering the times back when he was happy. It was few and far inbetween. "The thing is, I can only speak for myself. I can't say what... the big guy would do. But considering what I know, I think he would be fine with it, if given a bit of coaxing. I'm not sure how a fugitive will be able to aid you, but I am willing to figure that out. This brain isn't all that useless, after all..."
The girls turn identical, radiant smiles on Bruce. |"You are far from useless."| "And we can be helpful, too." "But you're worried about this other one." One of the girls reaches out to touch his hand. "Another part of you that might hurt others."
In the gestalt, they are already conferring and by the time the reaching fingers brush Bruce's hand, they are made of diamond. All the girls are. Clear, radiant, flawless diamonds all the way through. "We are strong like this."
"You certainly are more than you seem." Bruce marvelled again at a new discovery with these girls, with their diamond-like bodies touching him. "Well, I imagine you can take a beating. I just wish that was enough. But I think I will trust in you the same."
Even though the hand was diamond-like, he held her hand gently like he would with any lady. "I don't know how much this will mean now, but I want to apologize all that happened to you. I may not have had any part of it, but I feel like there's a need here. And again, anything I can do, just let me know."
Oh. The girls are flesh again. |"Unexpected."| Bruce gets three kisses to his cheeks in a row and then the girl next to him--Phoebe--puts her head on his shoulder like a child, the other two cling to each other. |"Thank you."| |"We never thought..."| Bruce gets an impression of time, years and years, and five girls alone in an empty, featureless room. No parents. One bed. No toys. Masked, faceless researchers. No windows.
A tear flows down Bruce's eye, as he recalls his own time. After the explosion, awakening in an empty room himself. Subject to tests, the scientist becoming the experiment. Being used against terrorists, long periods of no memory. But then, thoughts, images, scenes of terror, destruction, rampage. And an image: a huge bulking man, green, angry. And one time, escaping from captivity, and running ever since. He can relate.
He only had one girlfriend, and even then he feels awkward in such situations. But he felt, at this time, it was a good idea to comfort... the girls. He takes an arm and puts it around her, comforting her, as much as with his own cousin before. He missed her as well. He didn't know what words to form, but he felt no words were necessary here. Just silence.
The girls comfort each other and Bruce with a vast, warm mental embrace. Their group mind is incredibly complex and intelligent and aware. |"We are sorry, too, for you."| |"We will do what we can."| |"To make sure you do not go back."| There is deep dismay in the girls' thoughts. |"We thought the programs we knew of were the only ones. Foolish."| |"If we can help it, we will not let them use you again."| |"Promise."|
"Thanks. It means a lot." Bruce can feel the warmth, a warmth he hasn't felt in a long time; not since is mother, and not since... "And I will make the same promise. I'll do the best I can. No one deserves to be locked up the way... the way we were." Bruce wishes there was more he could do, but for now, there's only the present.
"Then we're friends." "Allies." "We have one other but we keep everyone's secrets." The girls' moods shifts at the idea of having friends and it's like the sun coming out even though the weather is drab. |"And stop thinking you aren't useful."| |"You have already been of more use than many."| |"We like you."|
"Do you have enough money? It's hard when you're hiding," one of them says, rummaging in her purse.
"Allies..." Bruce like that word, even though it's foreign to him. It wasn't the first time someone offered him help, but they didn't know who he was, usually. But it was nice to know one was not alone. Then the issue of money came.
"Well... you don't need to give me anything, if you need it. I don't want to impose." Bruce has learned on how to live on a small budget, and on how to earn money under the table. However, he could always use more money, even though he didn't want to impose.
"We have too much." The girl--Sophie, for what it's worth--takes several rubber-banded rolls of cash out of her purse. "And we can always get more," she adds with a wicked grin.
"We play poker with bad people," Phoebe says. "You can imagine how brilliant we are at it." All the girls giggle at that.
Sophie hands over what has to be a couple thousand in bills that have obviously been in circulation for a while. "We like... redistributing."
"I see. Well, if that's the case..." It was against Bruce's own personal code, but beggars can't be choosers. "Thank you." And now his money has increased significantly. "But please do be careful. I know you can handle yourselves well, but as I have found not even I... am invincible. The world still has secrets it has yet to... disclose. I don't know why, but I am a bit worried. And thank you again."
"It's nothing," the girls say in unison. |"We will be careful, though."| They switch between voices and telepathy seamlessly. Voices mostly for positive things, perhaps, and telepathy for feeling more serious. "We have enough people and money that we can be very quiet for a while." "Do you have a phone?" |"We could find you like this."| |"But it's not very..."| |"...we know people are private."|
"Here." Bruce pulled out his phone, a new one, that he reconfigured. "I'll give you the number, so feel free to call me at any time." He tells her the number, and muses on her form of communication, but decides not to respond on it. "And I appreciate the discretion. There may be times when I'm busy myself, and there may be times when... I'm not myself. I hope it doesn't come to that. And, I wish there was something else I could give you."
The girls give him their number in return. |"You said you were sorry for something you didn't have any part in."| |"We didn't even know we needed to hear it."| |"Or that it would change so much to know anyone would think that way."|
"If we can ever help you," Sophie says, in that slightly different intonation that means she speaks for them all. "Please tell us. We have many skills. We can learn things for you and from you. We can hide you. No one sees us now, any of us." It's true, people are walking past as though there weren't even a bench here. "We were made to be useful. We only wish for it to be voluntary, not to avoid it entirely."
"I thank you for the offer. Forgive me, but I will have to think about it for a while. Not that I don't trust you... I just don't trust me." Bruce knew he couldn't put his guard down completely. And he did feel he had to be somewhat independent. "I'll give you a call, if something comes up or I change my mind. I appreciate it, I really do."
The girls take this with good nature. |"We understand."| |"Everyone needs to go their own path."| |"We went ours alone for two years after getting out."|
"Of course you can call us even if you don't need anything." Phoebe gets up to haul her sisters to their feet. As soon as they're moving, all hope of telling them apart is lost.
"People do that, you know," one of the girls says, and then they laugh as though it's an inside joke. "We like you." One of them touches his cheek lightly. "So you could see us for no reason at all," another says. |"It might be a happy thing."|
"Thanks for understanding." He touches the cheek and the hand that touched him. "I do hope that our paths cross again. There are worse things. Maybe... if more people were like you..." He gets up and puts on his backpack. "Again, thanks, and I wish you well. There's much for me to do, but I imagine you already know that." He ends with a chuckle, and sombers up. "You take care of yourselves."
"Of course." The girls give him a wave as they turn to go, arm in arm. |"Our paths will cross again, Bruce. You're far too interesting to meet only once."| One of them looks over her shoulder, laughing, and then they're gone as though a curtain closed behind them.
Bruce blinks. And in that blink, it seemed like things went back to normal: a sunny day, with people interacting each other in the park. No one seemed to have reacted to what just transpired, as if there was no trace of the girls. It's as if the entire thing as a dream, but a nice dream. Bruce almost felt it as such, if it wasn't for the fact that it was very specific, as well as the new wad of money in his bag. And there was the new number in his phone.
The I.D. of the number was simply thus: "The Cuckoos."