labcoatgirl: (Default)
It was Bruce's first week at the new school, he was still nervous, still trying to find the right corners to hide in. He kept to the back of the room, never asking questions until after class to keep any potential bullies off his scent. He was doing his best to fly under the radar, but had found it nearly impossible to keep from staring at the back of one girl's head, distracting him from even his science classes.

She was beautiful beyond his comprehension, and she always asked the most brilliant questions. It was all he could do, to keep himself tucked carefully into his notebook so she didn't feel his eyes on the back of her head. Thursdays was lab day, and this was their first time, so the teacher had randomly assigned lab partners. It was a blessing, at least Bruce thought so, that he wouldn't have to awkwardly find a lab partner when it felt like everyone else knew each other.

The color from his face must have drained though when it was announced that he was to be partnered for the next month with the very girl he'd been starting at for the better part of the week. Perhaps the teacher had noticed. Either way, he bit his lower lip as he trudged shyly over to the bench and desperately worked to busy himself with going over the paper there which was designed to introduce them to the equipment which he already knew how to use.

Betty had no idea she was the target of anyone's eyes. While very bright, she never really had time for boys or the mundane things the other girls would talk about. She had quite a few girlfriends but any guys advances were diffused by her friendly nature and being overwhelmed by her level of intelligence.

She wasn't fond of having a lab partner, most of them couldn't keep up with her anyway. But it was a necessary part of school and she was very glad not to be paired with a few of the local students she knew would have made this assignment a living nightmare. She was already tying back her hair and putting on the safety goggles as she lit the bunsen burner as if she's done it a million times before. There's a side look at him as he approaches, she hasn't seen him around here before. He must be new. Poor guy looks shy too so she gives him a smile. "Hey, I'm Betty."

"Hi. B-Bruce." He swallows the lump in his throat and smiles shyly. "I'm Bruce." Great, he could barely even introduce himself. It was then that he noticed she seemed just as familiar with the sets before them as he felt. He quickly slid his glasses down off the top of his head and at least the thought of what he had to accomplish helped to keep his hands from shaking too much as he reached out and quickly busied himself with measuring out the chemistry with practiced accuracy. He'd done this experiment years ago, and she probably had too.

She has to fight back her amusement, biting her lip. There was something endearing about him already. The geeky glasses only add to it. "Nice to meet you, Bruce." She pulls out her notebook, already filled with a few scientific projects she's been working on and flips to a blank page, labeling it at the top for this project, putting in the corner Lab Partner: Bruce.

It's then that she looks over and sees him hard at work on it already and she actually pauses to watch. Impressed. Here she was thinking he might be too shy to even start the project. "You've done this before?" Betty points with the eraser tip of her pencil.

"Huh?" He stops only after finishing the last measurement, safety first after all, and then looks up at her. He's like a deer in the headlights, and even if she is his lab partner, it's still hard to realize she's talking to him.

"Oh, uh, yeah. You too?" His own lab notebook sits on the edge of the desk, abandoned for the moment until he has the opportunity to get started. His is new, the one he uses nightly tucked away safely in his backpack that's over by the door. For now it's safe while the rest of the class is preoccupied just trying to learn the difference between a beaker and a test tube.

She looks almost relieved to hear that, brightening as she tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. "Yeah! Lots of have no idea how hard it is to find good lab partners." Lowering her voice she leans to the side so the others don't hear. "Some of these guys don't know a hydrocarbon from their left foot, I'm telling you." She scribbles out that the first part of the experiment was in progress on her notebook and starts heating up another liquid in a beaker with precision, holding it carefully over the flame with a pair of tongs. "I guess I'm biased though, I plan on doing this for a living someday." If he was going to be so quiet, she was going to talk.

Her comment earns a smile from him, something more relaxed, far less nervous than his previous expressions to date. Oh, she really was as brilliant as she was beautiful. He felt his heart flutter and suddenly that sensation grounded him as he swallowed hard and then went to his notebook to begin writing down the information in a clearly intentional and studied format.

"Tell me about it." His voice nearly cracked as he kept it low, he just couldn't wipe the traces of that smile from his face even though he tried. "But yeah, I've been thinking bio-engineering, genetic research, that sort of thing." He wasn't going to mention that he'd been playing around with things he'd read in a few college-level papers he'd read at the public library, he didn't know how much was too much yet. He really didn't want to scare her off, he did that to so many other people, one way or another.

"Really?" She sounds genuinely interested, that sort of thing was right up her alley. "I've read up some on those," she pours out the carbon into a beaker of solution, careful not to spill. "Dad thinks it's a waste of my time but, y'know...he's in the army so he's not around to object too badly."

She was getting the impression that this might be someone she could talk to normally and they wouldn't think she was speaking a foreign language. "I've done a few experiments at home..." Betty quickly clarifies, "Nothing big, see, I've got some pet mice. John, Paul, George, and Ringo."

"Me too. I mean, I've done some experiments, but I don't have any pets." He pauses in his writing as he looks back over at her, that smile back on his face, but it's amused in a kind and uncertain way. Like he's not certain how to be amused.

"You named them after the Beatles? That's awesome." Awesome. That was a word he really couldn't remember having used much, if ever. He grabbed the strips of paper they were to use for making their litmus paper and started to cut them with the safety scissors provided by the school. They weren't particularly effective, leaving rough, ragged edges but it was all that they had to work with.

She practically beams when he says that, glad to find someone who knows the Beatles. And thinks they're awesome. "There were four of them, what else was I supposed to name them? Besides, Ringo kind of looks like him too. And he likes to make drumming noises on the cage sometimes."

She hasn't really told anyone about her pet mice, why him? Maybe because he seemed more genuine than the other guys she's run into at school. And he didn't seem like he would laugh at her.

Betty sneaks a look at the teacher before pulling out her own pair of scissors and sliding them over. "Here, those don't work so well. It's better to have your own equipment." She'll begin labeling test tubes for each of the litmus tests with numbers, noting down which number will be for which liquid.

"Oh, thanks." He quickly abandons the blunt instruments for her scissors, which allow him to make neat, perfectly straight cuts. He's a perfectionist and each trim of the paper is made exactingly. "I, uh, haven't had a chance to get a new pair since I moved." He wasn't going to say that he couldn't, most of his lab equipment had been donated by various teachers taking pity on him, but so had most of his school supplies.

"So, what kind of experiments do you do?" They might as well talk about something related to the class, but they could probably do this setup in their sleep. No reason to keep things interesting while they let the slips of paper activate.

"Oh, you just moved here?" Her handwriting on the test tubes is equally neat and legible.

"Chemical reactions usually. I don't have the setup to do anything spectacular with DNA. Not yet anyway." Betty shows a pair of crossed fingers, "Hopefully for Christmas." That was one thing she wasn't as proficient in, cobbling together lab equipment from sub standard materials. "I dyed Paul orange once and right now I'm trying a study to see if a higher ratio of protein to water diet will improve George's track record in the maze...once I build one."

"You know, you'd be surprised what you can do with stuff you can find laying around." He suddenly blushed, and then went back to prepping the weak acids and bases. To prevent accidents, they'd been given powdered mixes to put into water, so he started on those.

"I mean, if you need any help with the maze or..." Oh boy, he could feel his face really flushing now as he gently bit his tongue and stopped rambling.

"Sorry." He mumbled as he used a glass rod to carefully stir the powdered citric acid into solution.

She hadn't expected him to offer to help. He was kind of hard to read at times but for some reason, Betty liked him almost immediately.

"What would you build it out of?" she's asking seriously, wanting another informed opinion. "I was thinking milk cartons but that would be a whole lot of milk to go through."

"We could always ask the cafeteria if they wouldn't mind donating. They go through so much milk, and if that doesn't work, I..." He purses his lips, did he dare admit it? "I don't mind a little dumpster diving. I mean, it's only the cardboard stuff, so it's clean, but there's plenty there and we'd still be recycling, right?" Well, if he didn't creep her out and make her want to wash her hands, maybe he had a chance...

She does pull a face, dumpster diving? But it was a good idea, she hadn't thought of that. "That could work, I suppose. So long as the results didn't get tainted from any smells on them." They could wash them pretty good...she was already thinking of working as a they.

"Y'know, I think they have recycling bins, maybe we could find something more durable in them?" And cleaner.

"Yeah, I mean, they have a big cardboard one next to the trash back behind the school." Again, he blushes, looking embarrassed that he has this knowledge. The whole conversation was doing nothing for his heart rate as he took a calming breath, checking over the beaker to make certain the powdered crystals had been thoroughly dissolved.

"You know, if you really wanted to, I bet we could make it using a modular design. It'd be easier to keep around in a closet, or something." He was thinking even further than that, perhaps if it were done properly, it would let her change the maze completely to improve the quality of her data. He was also thinking portability, he moved around often enough it was one of the first things he usually thought of when creating new experiments.

She's past impressed now, he was practically thinking outside of the box. "Modular? You mean a maze you could shift around? ....that's brilliant." She didn't say that to just anyone. In fact, she may have never said that to anyone.

Now he really blushes, smiling back over his shoulder at her. Then he's shaking his head, as if to dismiss the compliment.

"Nah, it's probably been done a million times already, but I thought, maybe, it could help." He sets the beaker down. "But I bet you'd do a lot better than anyone else making it." He huddles a bit over his notebook, making a few notes as he glances over to the test tubes she's labeled and making certain his data is complete.

She's already trying to think of how to draw it out below her notes, ignoring the experiment for the time being. " in pieces that would fit together..." Betty's trying to wrap her head around the idea, sketching a few attempts and seeing how they line up.

But when the teacher says their time is almost up, Betty realizes she'll have to do that some other time when they're not in class. She helps finish up the litmus paper tests, letting him write down the results.

It takes a lot of self control not to jump in and add his take on things, but it's something he's been working on for a while. Also, the teacher's announcement helps as he jots down his notes and then starts to help with the cleanup.

"If you want, you can copy the results. I can finish this up." He offers as he drains the contents of their tests down the chemical sink with lots of water to dilute it.

"...thanks." Offering to clean up too? He was almost too good to be true, the perfect lab partner. Betty busies herself with copying over the data they had gleaned while he cleans. They have just enough time before the bell rings for lunch and all of the kids start pushing their way for the door.

Betty puts her notebook away, letting it thin out a bit as she zips up her backpack, putting it on.

Bruce finishes cleaning up, leaving the table impeccably clean, even though a couple kids shove by him. He doesn't seem to notice or mind, and just keeps at his business, having never spilled during it all. Once it's all set, he brings his notebook over to a rather tortured backpack that looks like it should have been retired a while ago. He places his notebook in and checks that his personal notes are still there. He'd almost forgotten about them during the class' rush to the door and breaths a small sigh of relief when he sees nothing's been touched.

She'd gotten caught up talking to a passing friend of hers about what they were doing after school. When she turns around, he's already gone. Betty's actually sad that he's gone, he didn't even say goodbye...

She gives herself a mental shake. What is wrong with you, Betty? She'd just never met someone that smart before. Or that...cute.

Betty sighs as she leaves the lab room, going towards the cafeteria. The hallways are crowded but she weaves through them like a pro. It was pizza today, she loved pizza.

He'd made a fast exit, afraid to linger in the room, especially when a friend had caught Betty's attention. He needed to calm himself down too, or he swore he was going to hyperventilate by the end of the day.

The perfect place for him so far had been a lone corner of the cafeteria that was a little too dark to be inviting where he could curl invisibly up over his notebook while keeping an eye on the rest of the room for trouble. There was only a wall behind him, so it eliminated quite a few risks right there, and he could close his notebook easily before anyone noticed the contents in the tatty thing. He should have been working on other projects, but found himself instead, filling a new page with sections of maze that could fit together any number of ways while he nibbled on an apple absently.

Betty was used to sitting with a few of her friends that had lived there almost as long as she had. After getting her tray of food, she was walking in that direction...and her table happened to be a few over from where she finally spotted Bruce, way in the corner. Not that she was looking for him.

...ok, maybe she was looking for him. He'd disappeared so fast, she was half wondering if she dreamed him up just so she wouldn't get stuck with a bad lab partner. He looked busy and he wasn't sitting near anyone else. Betty hesitated before sitting down at her usual spot, the girl's conversation around her going unnoticed. Wonder what he was working on? Something interesting and smart, no doubt.

Betty's form didn't catch his attention, he was so engrossed in his sketches. The apple appears to be all he has, of maybe he'd already eaten. It would be hard to tell, as he leaned further into his notebook, oblivious as a couple other forms moved toward him. A couple troublesome upper classmen had singled out Bruce, for all the melting he'd done into the walls of the school, he was still a new face. He almost jumped out of his skin as a greasy hand slammed down on top of his notebook. He stared at the page as it was crumpled, torn out of his notebook and then tossed over a shoulder, landing at Betty's table. Save for being startled, he simply sat there, letting the cruel individuals laugh at his expense as he let his eyes wander toward the page and then felt color rush into his face at the sight of Betty. He quickly ducked his head and went back to his notebook, abandoning the page and hoping he can retrieve it after she leaves. Maybe if he treats it like it's nothing she won't notice it on the floor.

She'd been munching on her slice of pizza when the slap on the table catches her attention. Betty knew those boys and avoided them. Bilingual mexican kids from the rougher part of town. At first, she's worried they might do something awful right here in the cafeteria but gratefully it's just his notes they destroy. The crumpled piece of paper landing almost on her tray and ending up next to her chair on the floor.

Betty quickly reaches to take it, putting it under the table to save it from the bullies' notice. It's then that Bruce looks her direction but looks away before she can react. She feels like she should apologize for their actions, they tend to pick on all the new kids.

The danger gone, Betty quietly unfolds the paper in her lap. Turning it around and that looks like...a maze. He was already working on her idea that she mentioned in passing. Her fingers follow the lines, working it out in her head. That was so much better than she would have come up with. She carefully straightens it out as much as possible, even taking out a book from her bag to put it between a few pages to flatten it.

Bruce is busying himself putting away his notebook, that would teach him, and steals a glance over at Betty. What was she--oh no. She'd picked up the page and opened it. She must think he was some sort of crazy, obsessed creeper to be working on her project. He barely remembers his apple as he stands up and starts to leave. Unfortunately, he realizes after standing that the only way out through the other milling students is to go by Betty. He ducks his head, as if it put some sort of invisible cloak on him and started at a purposeful but not out of place pace, trying to sneak by her if he can.

She's finally got the page flattened nicely by the time he's trying to sneak by. Betty slides it out of her book and stands up just as he's going by, right in front of him now. He couldn't sneak past without going through her.

"Hey...sorry about those guys." She's holding out the page to him with a smile. "After a week, they'll be picking on someone else."

He stops with that caught, deer-in-the-headlights look when she stands in front of him. It turns to a faintly confused look before he musters an uncertain smile, and a short laugh to match.

"As far as bullies go, they could have done worse." He looks down at the paper and purses his lips a moment in thought before speaking again. "You can, you can keep it, if you want. I mean, I know it's kind of gross now with the...handprint." He falters, looking down at his shoes uncertainly.

Her smile reaches her eyes. She had thought about keeping it. Though the comment about it having a handprint kind of lowers its value. "Hm, yeah...I don't know the last time those guys washed their hands." Trying to get him to smile again. She really liked his smile. He didn't use it often.

" could draw it again?" It sounded so much better in her head. Betty flushes slightly herself, realizing how that must sound. "I could copy it I suppose, but...I like yours better."

"Oh, uh, okay." He looks up, smiling faintly. "I could, you know, grab some graph paper from the math teacher and it'll look a lot better." Ever the perfectionist. "I have math next period, I'll ask. What's the rest of your day like? I could catch you after school." That was his major disappointment of the day, they didn't share any other classes, but he'd have a chance during English to redraw his sketches before the end of he day and pass them off to her before they went home.

Betty bends to get her bag, digging through the books before coming up with a small pad of graphing paper. She did always like to be prepared. In fact, she's handing the whole thing over to him. "Here, you can give it back later when you're done with it. I've got a study period and then history. Do you know where the flagpole is?" Trying to pick an easy spot to meet up.

"Thanks." How does she continue to make him more and more impressed with her? He accepts the notebook, almost treating it like a fragile item. He's afraid to stick it in his old backpack, so he just holds onto it. He tries not to look over at jer friends, wondering what they all make of this exchange. "Yeah, I know where it is. Right after school lets out then?"

"Sounds good. See you then?" She hasn't even noticed her friends, they're looking at the two of them like a tennis match. They hadn't seen Betty give any guy this much attention before. Or a notebook. The one she gave him still has a few random sketches and formulas in the front but nothing she won't miss if it gets lost. She'd copied them down during one of her physics classes.

"Yeah. See you then." He smiles faintly, hesitating to move by her and then finally scooting by as unobtrusively as he can manage to a few quiet giggles.

He makes a quick exit, his ears burning bright red as he makes for the library as quickly as he can. He spends the rest of lunch fleshing out the maze, redrawing his ideas and filling out more details in the margins. When the end of the day came, he found himself clutching her notebook as he stared out at the flagpole, noticing the bullies from earlier had gathered nearby as well. He froze, uncertain what to do.

Betty's friends start teasing her when she sits back down. Typical "do you liiiike him?" questions and asking if he'd asked her out or something in class. Betty flushes again, unable to deny that she liked him. Which earned more teasing but it was all meant kindly.

After school, she's a little late due to having to talk to a teacher and hopes that he doesn't think she stood him up. Betty hurries to the front of the school and out the doors, stopping at the flagpole and looking around. Her heart sinking, maybe he left already and she missed him. She doesn't notice the bullies, more concerned with finding Bruce.

Bruce was almost ready to leave when he sees her and takes a short breath as he steps forward, but stops. He's terrified of problems, but he'd feel far worse running from her, leaving her alone to wonder where he went and why he'd steal a notebook. He looks around and then steels himself, starting off at a calm pace that hopefully doesn't attract the attention of the bullies.

Her dejected look clears into a relieved smile when she spots him coming over. Betty waits at the pole till he gets close enough.

So far, they are going unnoticed but out in the open like this, it was only a matter of time.


"Hey." He looks as uneasy as he feels, trying to steal a meaningful glance toward the bullies. He holds on to her notebook a few moments before realizing he's holding it. He holds it out. "If you want, we could, uh, go back and see what cardboard we can find."

She's only got eyes for him, the meaningful glance goes unnoticed. Betty smiles happily, taking the notebook off of him and flicking through it curiously. Her eyes lighting up at all the sketches as she nods to the idea of going to find cardboard. "Wow...these are great." Walking next to him towards the recycle bins.

He's glad to be moving, feeling certain he's gone unnoticed as they head around the side of the school. He smiles when he sees a few collapsed boxes sticking out the top of the bin. He's hopeful they'll find what she needs.

"I figure it'll help with your data since you can really figure out if your protein solutions will help with the problem solving skills."

"Uh huh," she's half listening, still looking at the sketches and picturing the whole maze and how they were going to build it. Completely distracted from the actual getting of materials by how brilliant Bruce is to have come up with these so fast. "You must have drawn clear through every class."

He laughs nervously, indeed he had, but he doesn't admit to it as he stops in front of the large cardboard bin. He shucks off his backpack, setting it carefully to the side as he makes a short jump and latches onto the edge, hauling himself up so he's sitting on the metal edge with a smile.

"Oh, hey!" He sounds excited as he reaches down in and pulls out a set of extra thick pieces of cardboard that would serve well as hardly, but lightweight bases and hands them gently down to Betty.

She looks up at his exclamation. "Oh! Yes, those are perfect!" Betty quickly puts the notebook away so she can help take the cardboard, excited about this project becoming a reality. "Is there any more?" She might need help carrying these home if there's too many.

"Yeah! Let me see!" He drops down into the bin, disappearing inside as he rummages and then reappears, handing over nearly an armful. "We can always bring this back if we don't use it--oh!" He disappears again and this time a few cleaned milk cartons come over the side. "They're already clean! I'm glad we did this today!"

She grins up at him, helping unload his arms, setting the cardboard on the ground and sorting for the best pieces. Even starting to label a few with a pen, sticking it in her ponytail when she's done.

The sound of group laughter interrupts their scientific discovery, the bullies having come around the building to find Bruce in the dumpster and Betty with him. "Well, isn't that adorable? The trash helping the army brat."

Bruce freezes, trying not to let his surprise register too much so it doesn't entice the bullies anymore than they are by the fact that he's half hanging over the dumpster edge. He can't hide down inside, and beside, he already knows he wouldn't leave Betty on her own. For being as rail thin as he is, he doesn't seem to take much effort to haul himself up and out of the dumpster, landing next to Betty. No way was he staying in it while Betty's outside.

Betty's enthusiasm dies as the group of three head towards them. Taking a step back with her arms full of cardboard and frowning at the bullies.

"Is this a date for your pretty chica?" the leader asks with a leer towards Betty. "You sure know how to pick em."

"Just go home, Silva. School is over." She sounded a lot braver than she felt. She was actually more worried for Bruce, she didn't want to see him get hurt.

Bruce, for his part, is doing everything he can to keep his flight instincts from overruning his brain. Still, as Silva continues to advance, Bruce puts an arm in front of Betty and steps in front of her. He's not putting on any airs of bravado, as he uses the opportunity to carefully maneuver her away from the dumpster. He doesn't want to give the bullies any help by cornering themselves.

"Betty, drop the cardboard and run, as soon as we get clear." He urged her in hushed tones. He can feel his heart racing, it's an overall bad situation, he hasn't even made it through the first week and he's courting disaster again. "What do you want?" He raises his voice, it doesn't shake, but there's not much challenge to it either. He's doing anything to buy them time to get a window to run.

"But--" Betty's not sure what to do. She can't just leave him with these animals, they'll make sure he never walks again by the look of them. He was trying to protect her, that much was obvious. Betty puts a hand on his sleeve to give him a tug backwards. "Com'n, we could just leave..."

"Going somewhere, chica?" Silva and his hoodlums keep advancing, looking very pleased with themselves. Betty's already moving backwards, tugging on Bruce's sleeve to do the same.

Unfortunately, she bumps into a fourth guy who snuck up behind them to block their escape, the guy grabbing her around the waist and trying for a kiss. Betty squeals, elbowing him in the face as hard as she can as she tries to get free. The others moving in on Bruce...

That sense when they bump into the fourth sends him spinning in place as the one guy grabs Betty, and he feels his pulse skyrocket. He doesn't have much time to react though when the others are jumping him. He manages to send one flying with a practiced martial arts move but the other two get him off his feet and pin him to the pavement.

"Stop it!" He struggles, oh god he can barely hear himself shouting. The entire situation was getting out of control as he went calm and looked up at Betty, desperation, and perhaps the faintest tint of green there. It flickers a moment as he tries to calm down. These toughs were just kids like them, but the way that one tried to kiss Betty left him in a near panic. "Stop!" He begged, wincing in pain and closing his eyes as he dropped his forehead to the hot pavement.

Betty's yelling the same thing. "Stop it, get off of him! You're hurting him!" Why didn't someone older come along and stop this?? They were right outside the school for crying out loud! Even if they were around the side, someone should do something. She had her hands full trying to get the other guys hands off of her, him still trying to kiss her. She'd managed to pull back enough so he could only get her to neck, which was gross enough. "Let go, you jerk!"

"Silva..." Bruce's voice seemed to rumble a little as he kept his head to the ground. "Let her go." He commanded as calmly as he could muster. When Silva just laughed, Bruce turned his face up so they could see the green glow rimming his eyes as he gave another jerk of his arms. "I'm not someone you should make angry." He knew it would only egg them on now, but perhaps it might buy Betty a chance to break free from the one holding her while he glared at them, trying so desperately to reign in his inner monster until Betty could get clear.

Bruce didn't sound right and for a moment, Betty thinks it must be from them trying to hurt him. The bullies laugh off his statement about not making him angry but Betty thinks that's the bravest thing she's ever heard. And now he's going to get beat up for trying to defend her.

She redoubles her efforts to get free, finally breaking loose and grabbing a handful of cardboard to toss in the guys face to slow him down. Betty tries to reach Bruce but the others aren't letting her by, they're too busy beating him up. "No, no stop it!"

He tries to hold on but then Silva kicks him, causing him to double over as the others finally scramble to their feet so they can join in. Bruce cries out, but it's not entirely from the beating. When the change comes, Silva gives a last kick before realizing something is going horribly wrong. It's too late though as he's grabbed by the ankle while the other two back off, revealing something not human holding a dangling Silva upside-down above the pavement. He's unceremoniously tossed into the trash dumpster with a high-pitched scream. Then the hulking green thing, a bit bigger than most adults, turns on the other three, growling threateningly.

They recoil, all of them, eyes bugging out at the monster they've discovered in Bruce's place. Betty stares, open mouthed and not understanding quite what was going on.

The bullies seem rooted to the spot for a moment but once one of them runs, the group takes off running. Betty stays put, not moving from where she's standing.

The Hulk takes a few steps after them, coincidentally approaching Betty at the same time. On the ground where Bruce had been a moment earlier are the tattered remains of his shirt and shoes. The creature seems content to let the others run as he looks down at Betty. He regards her a moment before giving a sigh and then turning to leave. She seems safe, but he knows that next the flashing lights will come, and he doesn't like the loud noises that are associated with them.

Her hands fly to her mouth at that look. Those eyes look just like...but it couldn't be...

"Bruce?" She steps quickly to reach for his arm, not even sure if she should touch him but she wanted to know if it was true. "Wait..."

It takes him a moment to register his name's been called and he stops as she reaches out his arm. The green face looks down at her in mild confusion. People ran from him, not to him. He lets her touch his arm as he turns to face her, regarding her with that same look.

She's pretty sure she can feel her knees knocking together, if this goes badly she could get seriously hurt. But she still remembers that shy boy who could barely say his own name to her. He's still in there, somehow.

"It is you, isn't it?" It was incredible, Betty couldn't even wrap her head around what could have caused this. "...are you okay? Are you hurt?"

There's that shyness, somehow making its way through as the Hulk looks down and away, seemingly ashamed or embarassed. Then from the dumpster comes a groan as Silva swears in Spanish, poking his head over the ledge of the dumpster. He sees the Hulk and the Hulk sees him. A silent glare is exchanged before the terrified troublemaker ducks back into the dumpster with a whimper while the Hulk emits a low, rumbling growl to keep him cowering in there.

Despite the strange circumstances, Betty has to smother a laugh at Silva's reaction. Serves him right, the jerk.

And suddenly, she gets an idea. "Hey, wait...hold on." She grabs her bag, slinging it over her shoulder and abandoning the cardboard. This was more interesting than mazes for her mice. "Come on, before you get into trouble." Betty gives his large hand a tug, trying to get him to walk away from the school. She wasn't sure she could explain what happened to the principal if they were caught.

The Hulk seems more than willing to comply as she beckons him onward. He follows, not unlike a faithful puppy, a very large and green faithful puppy. Off in the distance he starts to hear sirens. Carefully, he scoops her up in his arms and picks up the pace, keeping both feet on the ground but heading for a nearby grove of trees at the edge of the schoolyard. His way is faster.

"Oh dear!" She hadn't planned on being carried. Betty clings to him as much as possible, hanging onto her bag as they go much faster than before. Where was he carrying her off to? It still was amazing to think this green giant was spawned from the small skinny teenager she had said hello to earlier today.

One thing Bruce has learned is that the Hulk goes wherever he feels safe. At that moment, the Hulk was heading off toward an abandoned building Bruce had scouted in case of just such an emergency. It was a lot easier if he could wake up somewhere he'd been before.

It doesn't take long to get there as the Hulk ducks inside the condemned home. It doesn't smell great, but it's nothing overpowering. He sets Betty down on her feet as he stands there, looking her over again to make certain she'll be alright.

Her legs feel like jello when he sets her down, she almost doesn't stand up at first. That was some trip here. Betty turns to look at him too, trying to see Bruce through the distorted face. He's there now and again, mostly in the eyes. "...thank you," she says shyly. Him carrying her off, that was kind of movie version romantic. Like King Kong and Fay Rae.

But now that they were here, she was starting to worry. What if he never changed back? What if he was stuck like this? "Are you going to be alright?"

It takes the Hulk a moment to process her question but eventually he offers a small nod, moving over to a corner and sitting down to the creak of old wood. He sits, watching her but it seems like his energy is starting to fade. He closes his eyes, resting his head tiredly against the wall and sighs. He stays like that a few moments before slowly, he starts to calm enough to where he begins to change back.

She's relieved to see that nod. For a moment, she wasn't sure he even understood her. When he sits down, he looks like he wants a quiet moment alone. Should she leave? No, that was a silly idea. Betty couldn't leave him like this.

Was it her imagination or was he looking smaller? She steps carefully over, keeping her distance just in case something should happen. Watching as the transformation is reversed.

It's not exactly a symmetrical process as slowly Bruce returns, grunting in his sleep-like state as a few bones pop back into place and finally, he's left propped up against the wall. He inhales sharply and opens his eyes, skittering back in place at the sight of Betty and at the same time clinging to the shredded clothing that hangs loosely about him.

"Oh no..." He looks at her wide-eyed, imagining he's probably as afraid of her as she is of him right now. Why had the Hulk brought her here? He'd never done anything like that before.

"Hey, no, it's ok..." She crouches down to try and reassure him. Not unlike trying to reassure a frightened animal. He looks terrified, Betty can only imagine what it was like for him like that. "I didn't know what to do or if you'd even change back." Betty doesn't look hurt or injured, she looks more worried than anything. And maybe a little shaken up but nothing she couldn't recover from.

Comparing him to a frightened animal would be pretty accurate right then as he shied from her, only to find himself in a corner of the room. In desperation to put a little distance in his confused state he tries standing, only to have his legs collapse under him, sending him sprawling on the filthy floor with a barely audible whimper which sends a cloud of dust up around him.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean..." He pleads up at Betty, trying so very hard to keep calm as he swallows a lump in his throat. "I--I didn't..."

She tries to catch him but he seems so frightened of her that she doesn't dare get too close and just ends up holding her hands out to him on the floor. "Are you okay?" Betty insists on asking, wanting a serious answer. He keeps apologizing and she's not sure why. "That was...I don't know what but it was incredible."

He looks up at her, confused. She wasn't running, or screaming. Did she just call what he became incredible?

"Yeah. I'm fine." Well, relatively speaking. He rolls onto his side so he can at least look up at her. At least if the Hulk had decided to take up kidnapping, he'd picked someone Bruce realized he didn't mind seeing. "Are you okay? Silva, he didn't...and the creature. You're not hurt?"

She lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding and just sits down next to him. Betty just really needed to sit right now. "I'm ok...just..." Surprised? Shaken up? Confused?

Creature was a good word for it but it was still Bruce. At least, that's what her gut was telling her the whole time she was with him. Betty looks confused back at him. "You don't remember?"

He swallows hard, watching her sit down and he shakes his head in the negative.

"Not really." He looks away, and then scrambles weakly to his feet while she sits, hobbling awkwardly over to his backpack and kneeling next to it, unzipping it. He digs through it a moment before coming out with a spare shirt that looks like it's been sitting wrinkled in the bottom of the bag for a while. Then it dawns on him the only reason why the bag would be there. "Oh, hey, thanks for grabbing my bag, by the way."

He looked so frail and was it possible? Betty kept running ideas round and round in her head as to what might have caused this, just staring at him. You could almost see the gears turning if you looked at her.

His thank you breaks her reverie. "'re welcome. I wasn't sure if we were going to be back for them..." She's rubbing her fingers nervously in her lap, trying to work out how to ask. "...can...can I ask what happened?"

Bruce, for all his brilliance and intelligence, completely misinterprets the intent of her question.

"Oh, uh, well, I'm still trying to work parts of that out. As far as I can tell the original signal starts at the base of the brain, where all the instinctual, sort of gut reactions occur..." He's rooting through his bag again, looking for a pair of pants he'd sworn were in there. Or maybe he'd forgotten to replace them since the last time. He'd actually made it through the summer, much to his surprise.

"The base of the brain?" Hello, science. Betty's curiosity peaks and she gets up to crouch next to him, ignoring the fact his pants were all torn up. "So it's a...a condition? Or a reaction? You've done it before?" She doesn't look scared at all, she looks incredibly interested.

He tries not to curl over his bag protectively as he sees the wayward pants, wrapped tightly around his notebook. He reaches in, unwrapping it and showing her the terribly abused looking thing. He seems tentative, but he feels he can trust her, and does something he's never done before: he hands it over to her.

"I've done it a couple times." More like a handful at least. "I spent most the summer trying to research genetics and the brain. I'm in way over my head, but I put it all in there, hoping I can figure this thing out."

She takes the battered notebook carefully, almost like how he took hers, not wanting to tear it. Betty crosses her legs under her, turning a page or two and reading.

"...gamma radiation...unexpected side effects..." she mumbles while reading, a finger following his handwriting. "This level of radiation..." she looks up at him in amazement. "...nobody should survive that."

"Yeah, now I know why." He sighs and flips a hand at the notebook. "Whatever it's done to me, it makes me turn into that thing you saw. Whenever I'm hurt, or scared or angry enough, it happens." He looks down at the pants in his hand. "Go ahead and read it if you want, I'm going to go change, but we shouldn't stick around too long. Your dad will probably be worried if you don't get home before it's too late."

"Incredible..." she keeps saying that but she's all out of words to describe what this was. She definitely wanted to read the rest of this, treating the notebook like a precious thing as she turns each page.

Betty turns her back so he can change, keeping her attentions on reading. She wasn't even sure she could tell her dad about this, he would probably flip. "He won't be home for awhile..."

"If it's like all the other times, Silva and his friends have pinned it on me and the school, or the cops are probably trying to call your Dad. That's how it always works." He quickly changes when she turns her back.

"I don't know, Silva's pretty proud. He might be too embarrassed to admit he got beat up by a..." and she forgets he was changing as she half turns to talk to him and quickly looks away, blushing. Not that she saw anything but his was a cute back.

He's thankfully unaware as he finishes dressing and then turns around. He's as modest as he can be, but he's had far more embarrassing moments than a girl seeing his back.

"By a nerd?" He smiles shyly, and laughs. "Yeah, I don't know how he'll deal with that, but it's going to make it a lot harder to avoid them in the halls, and that's the last place I want that sort of trouble." He sounds sad, he was so excited today, thinking that perhaps he'd finally found a place, and someone he could feel comfortable with.

She wasn't sure what it was about him that left her so enamored. Even knowing what it was he turned into, it just made him all the more interesting in her eyes.

Betty risks another look at his sad tone, her own heart sad and wanting to help him. Trying to cheer him up, " could always threaten to toss him in the dumpster again." Betty giving him an encouraging smile as she walks back over. "Besides, it's their word against us." Yes, she said us. "And the principal already knows what troublemakers they are."

"Yeah but...I don't exactly have a good record myself." He came over, sitting down beside Betty now that he was dressed again. "I've, uh, been through a few schools. Most of 'em pinned it on me, for good reason too. That thing has done some damage in the past." He notices that the next page is scribbled out with a giant WRONG pressed in heavy ink and quickly flips by it for her. He's had a few rough days, and doesn't want to burden Betty with them. He points to the new page.

"You remember how I mentioned making your own equipment for DNA analysis?" He smiles shyly, showing her a couple sketches for a centrifuge made from an old record player.

He seems like such a nice boy. He's got a record Silva would envy.

Betty sees the large black word for a moment before he's turning the page quickly. It must be so hard for him, being so smart and having to be so careful all the time. The new page makes her smile, "Oh, that's clever. I should try that."

She over at him next to her, very glad to have met him. It's like she's known him for months and they've only just met today.

He beams at being called clever, goodness any compliment from Betty he realizes he'd smile at. He looks up at her, meeting her eyes when she looks over at him. Likewise, it feels like they've known each other for so long, it's impossible to believe they only just met today. He feels his cheeks flush and his stomach makes a small flip as he finds himself captivated by her eyes. He is the first one to break eye contact though at that sensation, uncertain how exactly it might affect him. Unconsciously, he slides a little closer to thumb through the pages a moment, looking for some of his other 'clever' ideas.

She gets the same fluttering feeling around her heart as their eyes meet. The rational part of her brain, for once, drowned out by her heart. When he looks away, he seems like he was thinking of something. Betty wonders if it's the same things she is. "What?" As if to question why he looked at her so long.

"Huh?" He looks back up at her, as if guilty of something. "Oh it's..." Nothing? No, he couldn't say that to her, it felt wrong. He drops his chin to his chest, wringing his hands a moment and decides the truth is best. "...just that you really pretty eyes."

Wow, Bruce. How lame can you get? He runs a thumb over an eyebrow briefly as he tries to pull himself back together as he reaches back out for the notebook.

She hadn't expected that answer, her cheeks blushing prettily. "Oh! ...really?" Betty hadn't thought of herself having pretty eyes. Or that Bruce would think them pretty.

"Thanks." She let's him have the notebook, though wishing she could keep it. As she does, their hands brush...and Betty finds herself picturing the two of them holding hands and wondering what was the matter with her.

Bruce's ears and cheeks are flushing pink for all the effort he's making to calm himself. That contact from gently retrieving his notebook isn't helping. He sits still a moment, taking an obvious breath since he really can't do it subtly, and then leans over to grab his backpack. He puts it back in and zips it up before setting it all in his lap.

"Betty, I uh, want to say..." He can't even look her in the eyes, it's difficult to concentrate. "Thank you. For today." He's terrified he's going to be shipped off again, another school. For the first time, he doesn't want to go. "If your Dad wouldn't get angry, maybe, you know, I could walk you home?"

She stands when he does, a little worried that he was making this sound like goodbye for good. But when he asks to walk her home, she brightens. "I'd like that," she says softly.

"And...if you like, you could see George, Paul, John, and Ringo."

"I'd like to." Though he's worried her father would physically toss him out, and the last thing he wants is to hurt someone she might care about. "If he's had a phone call though, we'll see. I hope Silva and his friends were too afraid to talk." He picks up her backpack for her and holds it out, so he can help her slip it on. "We'll have to get the cardboard on a weekend or some other time when there aren't people around." He could at least pretend to make plans, but he really wan't holding his breath. Too many disappointments.

She isn't even thinking that far ahead, still stuck happily on the fact he was walking her home. Of course they would have the weekend. Betty nods and turns to put on the backpack. "I have Saturday free."

"I should be able to get out for a little bit around lunch time, I think." His smile fades a little, he'll make the effort but he can't promise anything, which hurts so much. He holds out the straps and slips it on before tossing his own over his shoulder and heading toward the door. He's shoeless, but doesn't see it as a hardship. He has other pairs at home, but hopefully it doesn't make thinks awkward. He holds the door open for her even, after he takes a moment to peek outside and make certain they weren't going to get in trouble for trespassing.

She follows behind him, stepping through the door when he opens it for her. She thinks about commenting on his feet, forgetting for a moment where his shoes could have gotten to...and then remembering his episode from before.

"It seems fantastic...impossible even. When you changed, I mean, the other...person," Betty isn't quite sure what to call it. "There must be something to explain how you get bigger. A person can't just get heavier and shrink back down without adding some kind of energy." Her scientific brain trying to work it out as they walk towards her house.

"Yeah, there's a definite breaking-the-laws-of-physics going on. I've been trying to estimate just how big it is from what's left after I change, but all I can do is guess." He shoves his hands into his pockets as they go, letting her lead the way since she'd be the one to know where they're going.

Betty looks thoughtful, trying to compare in her mind the height-to-mass ratio between Bruce and his other self. It's not hard to guess what she's thinking as she looks over at him and then far above his head.

"It's a rough guess at best, but he was about three times your size." Thinking he might never see a mirror when he's in that state, she also clarifies, "and,"

He laughs gently at the and green statement, looking down at his bare feet as he walks along the warm pavement.

"Sometimes I'm aware enough to see it happening, so yeah, definitely green." He smiles, and looks up above his head, as if he can see where her eyes are looking. "Yeah, seems around what I've been able to figure out, going by the damage it does."

Her eyes come back down to look at him questioningly. "....what's it like? When it happens, I mean?" She really wants to know. It looked traumatic, whatever the transformation did to him.

His smiles fades and he puts his gaze straight ahead, going quiet as he searches for the right words. It's hard to find him, but it should be clear from the few thoughtful noises he makes that he's trying. He really has no comparison, and he's not certain he can describe it clearly.

"It's..." He purses his lips and tries again. "It's like being so angry you could just scream and throw things, but a million times over. A lot of the time I can't even see straight; even when I don't want it to happen it just overrides everything, and it feeds off itself." He pointedly misses out on the description of the transformation. He only fought the one today so much because he knew they were in trouble, but it's certainly as painful as it seems, and sometimes more so.

"Oh..." Betty tries to put herself in that situation, trying to imagine what that would be like. It does ring a small bell in her memory. "Almost like that one condition...ohh, I can't think of it..." She scrunches up her nose, trying to remember. " people who can't control these spurts of anger, it's almost like a seizure going off in their brain. I read something on it once in a journal." A science journal that was way above high school level.

"Intermittent Explosive Disorder?" Bruce looks over at her, his raised eyebrows betraying how much he is impressed by that. Yeah, he has been looking into every single thing he can on trying to control anger, and that's the one which has hit home the closest so far. "I've been doing some research into the medications they use to treat it, but..." He snorts quietly at himself as he shoves his hands deep into his pockets. "I can at least work on the behavioral therapy side of things."

"Yes, that's the one." She points to him, glad that he knew the name when she couldn't come up with it.

"How has that been going?" The behavioral part, that is.

"Alright, I guess." He scuffs his foot a little at a stone. The bottoms of his feet are tough from all the wandering he does in bare feet so it doesn't bother him. "If there's been any gain, I'd have to say it takes a little longer before things pass that point where there's no going back." He makes a sound, as if there was something else to add to it, but he bits his lip gently instead.

"That's good..." she tries to be encouraging about it. And leaves a space in case he needs to say more than that. When he doesn't, she adds in, "...maybe it'll get easier with time and practice then?"

"Maybe. But it's just a stop-gap until I find a way to get rid of it. I don't want to live with this the rest of my life if there's a cure." He has to keep believing there is a cure, it's one of the few things keeping him sane, from falling into a depression he's fearful would result in more harm than he's already caused.

"...I'd like to help." She surprises herself by saying that aloud. It's true, she really did want to help him somehow. "I...might have a few resources, maybe I could help you look for a cure too?" she adds with a shy smile.

He looks at her, actually surprised. He isn't used to people offering help, usually they offer shrinks, or screams of terror. Then he picks up his jaw and smiles.

"I would like that, a lot." He feels his ears warm, but he just keeps her gaze, because he wonders a moment if all this is a hallucination. Maybe she's a dream and he'll wake up again on that dingy floor, this time alone. If it is a dream, for once, he wouldn't mind staying asleep. If not, maybe there's finally some sunshine heading his way.


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Elizabeth (Betty) Ross

April 2014

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