|A Soft Place to Land (or The Hangover)|
|What: The Cuckoos bring Bruce to their hideout in Gotham, along with roommate Laura, and he tries to plan his next move.|
It's still Christmas in Apartment 5C when the girls get Bruce home. They've made sure he slept all the way there. It's no trouble for one of them to shift and carry him inside. To their delight, Laura is there when they get in. No worries about explaining Bruce to Laura.
|"This is ours,"| they say--with the implication that he's somehow similar to Laura that way--and go about getting him settled into the one bed in the apartment. |"He had a bad day."| That's an understatement.
Laura had gone out prior to the Cuckoos running across Bruce's incident on the news, but it had bothered her not at all to find them gone when she got back. She is, however, found warily peering over the back of the semi-disreputable couch when they enter with the unfamiliar scent of the man in tow, a 9mm pistol in hand.
She relaxes and nods at the explanation, sitting back up, and turns back to her morning's haul-- several smallarms in varying states of dismantlement are already on the table, and Laura unloads and strips the one she's carrying. "He smells like salt and sewage," she notes with mild curiosity.
Quiet. It was very quiet. Usually, what would happen would be images of past events, recent and old, of past... attacks. But not now. It was just quiet. Maybe a bit too quiet.
Bruce's head started to stur. He was waking up. And with that came the pain and fatigue that was coming from his... recent episode. There wasn't much, fortunately, but enough to make him feel uncomfortable.
Suddenly images started to come in. Tanks firing, bombs exploding, people screaming and shooting and flying. And in the middle, a woman. A woman who dared come into the mess. A woman risking her life.
"BETTY! NO!" Bruce woke up in a start, sitting straight up. Not a good idea, for he was not yet used to his body, and felt pain all over. Mainly in his head, which he clutched in response to the pain. And then there was only a small, faint response...
|"You're safe."| One of the girls sits next to Bruce on the bed and puts a hand on his forehead. There's the weight of someone else to his other side, one of the girls lying the wrong way and watching something on a computer. The third is in the kitchen making coffee. Weirdly, everything in her looks like... Christmas. There's a tree and lights...
"We found him out on a beach," the girl in the kitchen--Phoebe--explains to Laura. "Like we said. Bad day. Did you want some pie?"
The outburst from Bruce startles Laura enough that she hunkers slightly in place ans whirls to face him, peering across the back of the couch like a cat that is entirely unsure of the new addition to their space. Phoebe's explanation-- and question-- relaxes her somewhat, but she keeps watching Bruce for the moment. "Yes. Please. I had some of the turkey when I got in." So dessert food is totally fair game, right? she rests her hands on the back of the couch, right next to her nose, which just clears the furnishing enough to sniff in the direction of the bed. Mrm.
Bruce starts to gather his thoughts, as the pain subsided. Having the sisters here, with him, gave him a sense of calm. But a sudden thought crossed his head. He knew the big guy got out. But he didn't know what he did, what had happened. The last thing he remembers was pushing a couple out of harms way, and then blackness. And now he's here, in a strange room.
None of that mattered at the moment. He kept his hands on his head, drooped down. A wave of guilt flew over him. And there was a question he had to ask.
"Did... did I... did he... kill anyone?"
|"Very few casualties, no fatalities,"| the girls say soothingly, including Laura in the discussion but allowing both her and Bruce their privacy. |"And you stopped."| |"We were very impressed."| "You should be proud of yourself."
Phoebe brings Laura some pie to eat behind the couch as though nothing untoward is going on, then comes over with a cup of coffee for Bruce. |"Did you want something for your headache?"|
Laura accepts the pie, and even moves around to sit more properly-- crosslegged-- on the couch so she can eat it, though her eyes never leave Bruce for the duration. Hoever, the gaze starts to turn from wary to curious as his concern over killing people sinks in and fills some gaps. She herself hasn't ever been that concerned over such things except as a side-effect of other worries, but she can understand it.
"If you have any Asprin, or something, I would appreciate it." Truthfully, his head is not being pounded as much as before, but he could use all the help he can get. And he wanted to show appreciation for the sisters. That reminded him. "And... thanks for rescuing me." He lifted his head up, and turned to the nearest sister, on his right, and gave a weak smile. "I don't know where I'd be right now... Probably locked up."
Bruce then looked distant, turning his head back down. "That might be for the best. I... didn't even initiate the change this time." He then took a deep breath, and made a realization, as he turned to the other... roommate?
"Oh, hello there. Sorry, didn't mean to disregard you," he mentions to the female mutant, of which he is unaware.
|"That's Laura,"| the girls tell Bruce. |"She's... one of us."| There's a sense of inclusion there that also points at Bruce. |"Here, we can take the pain away."| The girl sitting beside Bruce touches his forehead and then, like a wave washing over him, all his aches and pains diminish. |"We told you we would help you."| |"We promised."| |"We won't let you get taken again."|
One gets the impression that Laura, while indeed a sullen teenager with more reason than most people her age to act that way, really just isn't one for using words to fill gaps where they're not needed. She nods at the introduction and Bruce's apology, scarfing more delicious pie calories, and gestures vaguely at the girls in a there-you-go kind of way. "It's fine," she adds, proving she can speak.
"Thank you..." Whatever pain Bruce felt, it was all gone. Now, he felt refreshed, renewed. He was ready to face the world... or was he? He imagined that he had to face up to the knowledge that the world is now looking for the Hulk.
And looking for him.
"And Laura... nice to meet you." Bruce got the impression that a handshake was neither needed, or wanted, so he just gave her a nod of acknowledgement. He's had to be that way for quite a while. And still must, but not around everyone.
"So... what happened? What did the big guy do?"
"Well, at first he seemed to intervene in a fight with some 'bad guy'--" Yes, the girls actually use air quoted, they're relativists. "--named Dynamo. And then Thor got in the way, so Hulk went after him in turn." "There was a lot of other fighting that happened after that." "And then some lady walked up and asked Hulk to stop and he did." "Did you want something to eat?" they ask, as though all of this was completely normal.
Laura, for her part, tilts her head this way and that while the girls-- her sisters, if she was honest and liable to think that way-- fill Bruce in. It's all news to her, but she's generally only peripherally aware of things like green rampaging guys in ripped pants in other cities. At the girl's question, she pushes herself up to take her fair turn fetching things. Not a gesture she's really done as yet, but she learns a little about being around People every day. She needs to drop her plate off now that she's devoured pie, anyway. "We've got lots of turkey left," she notes.
At the very mention of food, Bruce's stomach grumbled. He's usually not that hungry, but then he remembered that he didn't have dinner that day. "I suppose I can do with some turkey. Thanks." He turned around, planting his feet on the ground as he slowly got up. He felt fine, but he wanted to be careful, just in case. And he was beginning to get used to the sisters' mannerisms, so he took it in stride.
"So, where are we? I'm assuming not New York."
"Gotham." It's easier to use their outside voices sometimes. "This is where we hide once in a while." One of them gestures about. "We had Christmas with Laura this week, our first one." "Her's too." "We know the date's wrong but..." "Training run."
The girl with the computer rolls over and offers it to Bruce. "They're cleaning up downtown if you want to watch." "And the other tab is some news footage. "It's not so bad"
"Practice is important," Laura notes as she returns, balancing a plate full of turkey and assorted other Christmas meal classics on one hand. The other hand... well, despite her statements about having eaten and the slice of pie she alrady packed down, she's eating a hunk of turkey speared on one of her claws. Clearly, the girls' identification of him as one of them, and Bruce's behaviour since, has her feeling comfortable that he's not going to go find some Weapon X person to rat them out to. The plate, she passes to Bruce.
"Thanks." Bruce takes the laptop and starts scrolling down. He looks at the news, and it really wasn't all that bad. There weren't even any buildings totalled. Pretty calm compared to his other episodes. And on another page, there was a woman... Pepper Potts, it said. And for some reason, an image of a woman came into his head... a young brunette. He shook it off and continued reading. "So, she's the one..." The one to ward off the Hulk. Bruce didn't know why, but he had an idea.
"Thanks," Bruce said as he received the plate from Laura. He took a moment and saw the claws. He merely lifted his brow in a bit of surprised. But nothing else; what could be weirder than him, anyway?
He sets the plate and the computer down on the table, and contines to look at more news. He was glad that there was no real cause for alarm... other than the picture of him. Or rather, a picture of him 7 years ago, his ID while working with the Army. Bruce hasn't changed much, if looking much older. But it wouldn't be too hard to identify him now.
He knew then, he couldn't go back to New York. Not like this.
|"This is true,"| the girls say. |"That's one reason we brought you here."| |"We could hide you if you were with us."| One of them sits down across from him, the others move around the room, tidying things and getting food of their own.
"Gotham isn't a bad place. But..." They exchange a look. "...is there no one else you can trust?" "Not that we won't help you, not at all." "You just seem to be... missing someone."
Laura, delivery made, moves back to the couch and the coffee table full of guns. She tears off a bit of her turkey and offers it to the roving girls when they fall into her orbit, then sets back to cleaning the small arsenal she's collected. "I like Gotham," she notes. "It's easy to hide here. People aren't bothered if you aren't normal. Much."
"I... I've been on the run for so long. There have been no real chances to make lasting relationships, especially considering my... condition." Bruce then thinks back. "The only people... that I can really trust... Well, I don't want to disturb them so much. They're not equipped to handle me. I'm not even sure I am equipped to handle this."
Bruce scrolls on. He sees then a report for the Avengers... "Sometimes, I wonder if I should just give up, and give in. I've been at this for 7 years, and nothing seems to have done much of anything. I know your promise, but as I look at it... Even you can't stop me when I change. And I won't ask that of you." His face looks sullen. "There are others, out there, who want me. Well, they want the big guy. Maybe I should give them just that."
Bruce just shrugs. "I don't know, it's all just so wrong. I'm not sure anyone out there can help me... Even if they wanted to."
"You can't just give in to people you can't trust, Bruce." The girl--Sophie this time--across from him reaches over to take his hand. "If there's a place you can go that you'd feel safe but you're avoiding it for other reasons, that's something else."
"You should stay in Gotham for a while, somewhere safe, and think about your options." Another girl puts her hand on his shoulder. "If there's anyone you want us to contact." "To make sure that they're safe for you." "We will." |"They don't need to know it's happened."| |"If you want to talk to them and it goes badly."| |"They don't even need to know that they've seen you."|
Laura finds this all eerily familiar, all right. She shakes her head, a little emphatically. "You can't let them have him. I was that for most of my life. People died. Bad reasons. You're not a person to them like that-- just a thing to use. And they will. A lot. It's awful. Worse than this. Better to run, force them to give up."
"That... would definitely help." Bruce nodded. "Maybe... I just need some time. Time to think. I know I'm not thinking straight now." He then closes the computer, deciding he had enough. These worries are just going to eat at him. And right now, he needs to eat. To he takes a fork and starts chowing down.
"Mmm... This is good. Great job." He meant it. It's been quite a while since he had a good meal like this.
"We like to cook," the girls say brightly. "We didn't get food in the program." They share a look with Laura and make a face. "Not like this." "Just." "It didn't look like food." "We got sick a lot when we escaped." "Then we figured it out."
One of them pets Bruce's hair as she drifts by--the same way they pet Laura. |"We'll make sure you get time."| |"And space."| |"And a safe place to stay."|
The exact same face the girls make about the 'food' in the Program is on Laura's face. "Just paste stuff," she scowls, then quirks a slight grin, like she's indulging in a private joke. "And some raw meat sometimes." She reassembles one of the guns on the table, ignoring how dirty her hands are getting, and tosses it haphazardly in a bag by her feet. "The food's been much better out here."
"Thanks... This means a lot. And that does suck, about the food." Bruce ruminates as he slows down his eating, and starts thinking. That woman he saw, Pepper Pots, there was something about her, something that the big guy responded to. He wasn't sure what, but he knew that was something. Maybe... Maybe it was time to stop. There are so many teams out, many beings with incredible powers who work together. But that was the same group as Thor and Sif, so that may not be a good idea.
And then there was the Justice League. They have a variety of people on there, including aliens and a self-admitted mutant. Maybe... they would be more accepting. So much to think about, and unsure of where to turn, Bruce just sighed. He was glad for the cover, glad for the girls. But there was one thing he was sure of.
He was tired of running.