labcoatgirl: (Default)
Back from the Dead Meme


[Later some of the people who knew him best would tell him that he'd been looking a little green around the gills when they found the stasis tube. In private they might admit that they'd honestly been scared that the Other Guy was going to make an unscheduled appearance.

Either way, reports were filed all noting that when Bruce Banner opened the view port into the stasis tube and saw Betty Ross inside, he held himself together and was instrumental in dismantling the rest of the rogue laboratory before he escorted the tube back to Stark Tower. The glint of green in his eye was enough to dissuade Agent Romanoff from insisting that she should be taken to a SHIELD facility. She'd survived the Hulk once and that was enough to convince her that she didn't want to go for round two on this one.

Now he's alone with the tube and its precious contents. With what he'd learned from the information on reviving Steve Rogers and his own research, he's worked almost nonstop for days to get to the point where he could banish everyone from his lab - even Tony - and ready himself for the do or die moment.

Either this would work, or he would at least be able to mourn alone.

Checking the IV and the monitors, he administers the last stimulant and waits at Betty's side.]

------------------------------------

Betty had no idea she had even been out for this long. Her abduction had come out of nowhere, not even her father knew where she had ended up.

It's incredible to think she's been perfectly preserved in this chamber for a whole year. The odds were against her for waking up but thankfully, Bruce didn't believe in regular odds.

She didn't even look like she was breathing, laying there in the medical bed. Her dark hair a contrast to her pale skin. Slowly though, very slowly her heart rate began to sluggishly pick up in rate. It seemed an eternity before she took her first breath on her own.

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[Her first breath steals the breath from his lungs. He has the ventilator at hand if she needs it, but this stasis had been so complete that he was hopeful that the muscle deterioration was minimal to nonexistent.

Her second breath reminds him to let out the one that he had been holding, and most encouragingly, the monitors show brain activity, escalating from mere static to coalesce into patterns reminiscent of a healthy person in a deep sleep.]

Betty? Betty Ross, can you hear me?

------------------------------------

Someone was calling her name...someone far away...

There was a fluttering of her eyelids before she took a deeper breath, starting to come around. Her first traces of thought wondering if she had fallen asleep.

Slowly her brown eyes opened, blinking to try and resolve the face bending over hers.

------------------------------------

[There are miracles and there are miracles and then there is the sight of Betty opening her eyes after a year's disappearance and the nightmare of seeing her stored away like some kind of lab sample.

He forces a smile, touching a hand to her cheek when all he wants to do is gather her up in his arms and protect her from the world.]

Betty, it's Bruce, can you wake up for me now? I need you to wake up.

------------------------------------

The blur resolves into Bruce's face, his voice filtering through. Her whole body felt heavy and tingling as if coming back from frostbite. When she recognizes him, a soft smile breaks across her face. "Bruce..." A puzzled expression flickers through her eyes. "...did I oversleep?" Maybe this was the day after her drinking binge. Right?

------------------------------------

No, no, don't worry about that, you're here with me now.

[He leans down to press a kiss to her forehead, struggling to keep his emotions in check. Now that there's relief to break down the walls of his intense focus since they found her, there's a tidal wave of rage that wants to burst free. Only knowing that Betty would bear the brunt of it keeps it pushed back.

There are questions to be asked, tests to be run, but he can afford her time to come fully to the present just as he needs to give himself time to find the calm center he operates in while surrounded by a sea of anger.]

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He sounded so worried, despite his forced smile. Betty was always happy to see him though, as she tried to bring her hands up to meet his face.

Except...she closes her eyes with a pained sound. Every muscle protested as she tried to sit up. "...why...what happened? Why can't I move?" She could move, it just ached like she was suddenly blessed with arthritis in every joint.

------------------------------------

Sh... don't try to move too much yet.

[He takes one of her hands to press it between both of his. He hadn't let himself think this far. Thinking of what to tell her when she woke filled him with dread that she wouldn't wake.]

Can you tell me the last thing you remember?

------------------------------------

Now she was the one starting to worry. Her hand felt cold in both of his warm ones. Why was she on her back in a medical bed? The beeping machines around her were starting to get her attention. "I...I'm not sure..." Betty tried to remember. The fact that he was holding her hand did help to anchor her that this was real.

"I remember drinking...a lot." Her voice a little embarrassed at admitting that. "And you came..."

------------------------------------

[His stomach falls and his smile falters, but he nods encouragingly. To think that her last memory is more than a year old makes the acid seethe in his head increase in volume tenfold.]

I came and I saw you in Willowdale. Do you remember anything after that?

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She tries to remember, but there's nothing after that. Not even a blank, it's as if she went to sleep yesterday and only just woke up. Betty shakes her head, looking up at him.

"...Bruce...please tell me what happened?" He looked almost as ill as she felt. "Did I get sick? Was there an accident?"

------------------------------------

I... [He squeezes her hand carefully.] You're going to be okay, and I need you to focus on that.

[Was it his fault? If he hadn't gone to see Betty would she have been left alone? Those are thoughts he has to push aside to focus on her.]

You came to New York with me after that night in Willowdale. You stayed for a three days and then I put you back on a plane to Virginia.

You never got off the plane. You were missing for more than a year and when we found you, you'd been put into a kind of stasis more sophisticated than I've ever seen.

------------------------------------

Surprise and disbelief spread across her face. "I...a....a year??" She almost chokes on the word. He couldn't be serious.

Except Bruce was always serious. In fact, he couldn't look more serious than he did right now.

She looks away, trying to process that huge piece of information she'd just been handed without panicking too badly. Panic was bad, especially around Bruce. "A year, oh my...my classes, my job..."

------------------------------------

Sh... shh... [Seeing her so stricken is a blow that hits him like nothing else can.] Betty, I'll help you. I'll be here every step if you want me to be.

What's important now is your recovery. [He wants to promise her that he'll get her old life back, but he knows all too well the world's tendency to keep turning whether you're there to see it or not.]

------------------------------------

She covers her face with her hands, trying to regain some composure. Finally nodding as he's talking. Deep breath, Betty. "I'm okay, it's just...it's a lot to take in at once."

Despite his admonitions, she's going to try and sit up now. Slowly.

------------------------------------

I know. I should have known you'd start asking questions right away.

Hey, take it slow. [He releases her hands to put an arm under her back to help her sit. Stubborn. He'd be frustrated with her if he didn't know that she just wasn't the type to lie back and wait.] Tell me how you're feeling.

------------------------------------

She gives him a wan smile as she takes his help to sit up, hissing as her sore muscles protest. "...like I ran a marathon in my sleep. For forty miles straight. Ow."

------------------------------------

Considering how long you may have been in stasis, it's almost miraculous how little muscle atrophy you have.

[They lost a year that they might have spent together, but she's alive when he had almost given her up for dead. He lets that be his consolation to buffer the anger.]

I could use a good cell biologist to look at the samples I took while you were out. Do you know one?

------------------------------------

He was right, she should have been wasted away to nothing. It was a miracle she woke up at all after being in a coma for that long. His question brings a smile to her face. "I'll have to ask around. They're hard to find..."

And if she had to wake up after being unconscious for a year, she finds the need to add on, "I'm glad I had you to wake up to."

------------------------------------

Betty... [He kisses her temple before resting his forehead where his lips had pressed.] ... I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't woken up.

I need to let the others know you're awake. It's going to get busy in here in a few minutes. Don't go anywhere.

------------------------------------

"I'll be here. Don't worry." Her smile a little more genuine as he kisses her forehead, putting a hand to his cheek.

It was going to be a road to recovery but at least she was alive to do it.
[fin]



"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust..." The minister was just finishing up the final words over Betty's grave. The whole world seemed to have stopped for this funeral, Bruce's avenger friends standing there with him for support. It was a sudden thing, her death. The first news was that she was in the hospital after a lab explosion. By the time anyone could get there, she was already gone. The chemical runoff had been so bad, they couldn't even have an open casket.

Or so it seemed...that was the official story anyway and the only one everyone there knew about. However, her father was notably absent. He had "other responsibilities" elsewhere.

------------------------------------

And damn old Thunderbolt Ross anyway.

Hating the man was the least of Bruce's thoughts in the howling storm of grief of grief he had been living in for days since learning of Betty's death. There had been... property damage. He wasn't proud of that; she would have wanted him to do better. She would have been able to talk him down....

She was gone.

He shook off offers of companionship, concerned solicitude, worried eyes, and Fury's suggestion that he might like to take a vacation somewhere - tactfully - remote. All he wanted to do was go home and be left alone.

The last to leave was, surprisingly, Natasha, but her company was tolerable in the way she moved through his house as silently as a ghost, putting food in the fridge and closing the curtains. He heard on the phone on her way out the door, reporting to Fury and then he was alone with his thoughts and his grief and the unending storm in his head.

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The thing was Ross was actually grieving in his own 'special' way. By flaunting the rules and doing what it took to get the job done. When Betty had come into the hospital, dying without a hope of surviving, he took matters into his own hands. He had a few favors to call in but it was enough.

She had been revived and recovered within a few days of the incident before Betty found out what had happened. And she was furious. Her father obviously thought this would get her away from Bruce and on his side for good. After having a very loud talk with him, she stormed out of the facility and walked for a long time to try and get a hold of her emotions.

And she inevitably found herself at Bruce's doorstep. Her heart in her stomach as she wasn't sure what to say. They'd already had the funeral. She couldn't just walk in and say hello. So she just stood there on the steps to the apartment. Trying to find the right way to knock on the door and too conflicted to do it just yet. Finally she just hunted for the spare key and opened the door quietly, hoping he wasn't home just yet. Of course, if he was, he would hear the door latch when it closed behind her.

------------------------------------

He had fallen into bed, clothes and all after the funeral, not even kicking off his shoes. After all the time spent trying to find and keep his equilibrium, it felt out of reach now.

"I'm fine!" he shouted without getting up. "Tell Fury I'll go into exile tomorrow or the day after."

------------------------------------

She froze halfway through the living room as she heard his voice from the bedroom. So he was home. And she could already hear how upset he was. She wasn't even sure how he would react but Betty couldn't leave him like this.

She moved quietly to the doorway, standing there with a worried look as she took her purse off her shoulder to put it on the floor. ".....Bruce?"

------------------------------------

The world swum around him. He had to be losing his mind with his grief, there was no way he was seeing what he was seeing.

He pushed himself upright and shook his head. "No. No, this isn't fair." It wasn't fair to be presented with this apparition when he was supposed to be learning how to live knowing she was gone.

------------------------------------

Betty tried to smile but it was more an apology than anything. "No, it's not. It's not fair. I'm...I'm sorry, Bruce. So very sorry." She was apologizing for not being dead? It seemed like the right thing to say at the time. He was still looking at her like she wasn't real.

------------------------------------

"What are you?" He slid off the bed, taking a tentative step away from the bed toward her. "Have I lost my mind entirely?" After all he'd seen, he still didn't believe in ghosts; there had to be some other rational explanation. Or irrational, as the case might be.

------------------------------------

"No, no Bruce. It's me." She takes a few steps forward, trying to get closer to him. "It really is. You're not going crazy." She really just wanted to run up and hug him but he looked more skittish than a rabbit in hunting season.

"I know about the funeral, they told me about it today. It wasn't my idea." Of course anything she's saying, a ghost could easily say as well. But she's trying.

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He wanted more than anything to believe. He hadn't even been able to see her body to say goodbye, but it felt like the most escapist kind of wish-fulfillment from a mind that already bore too heavy a load of emotion on a day-to-day basis.

"How--" How did you survive? How are you here? How is this possible? He closed the distance and reached for her to pull her into his arms.

Even if it was an illusion, he'd take a chance to at least say good-bye.

------------------------------------

Relieved at his response, she meets him halfway and throws her arms around his neck, embracing him. She is definitely too solid to be a ghost. "I'm okay, I promise I'm okay..." Betty keeps saying over and over, hoping that eventually he's going to believe it.

------------------------------------

"Oh God." She was completely solid in his arms. Solid and warm and-- He drew back to see her face, not for a moment letting her out of his hold. "How is this possible? Talk to me, Betty."

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She is fine with being held, as long as he needs to. Betty has a pained smile when he pulls back, knowing he wasn't going to like the explanation any more than she did. "The General." She's not calling him dad, definitely not after today.

"I wasn't fully recovered till today and I found out the truth. I would have died if he hadn't intervened but..." She could not begin to approve of trying to fake her death for his own means.

------------------------------------

The pit in his stomach couldn't decide whether to be cold with fear or hot with fury at the mention of her father. He already knew that General Ross was unscrupulous and that he made no bones about wanting to separate the two of them.

"But what? What did he do?" Could he hate Ross for whatever he'd done? Probably not. Not with Betty in his arms.

------------------------------------

She sighed, feeling her own frustrations at even talking about him building up. "When he found out I wasn't going to make it, he arranged to have me transferred to another facility. He had connections to get a hold of what they needed to keep me alive. I don't know what they used, they wouldn't give me the formula." Unsurprisingly.

"And then, when I found out he had staged the funeral, I..." She stopped herself, ducking her head back onto his shoulder with a small laugh. "I told him off. The next door secret bases probably heard us. And then I left."

------------------------------------

Cold won over hot in his stomach, spreading out to turn his spine into a rod of ice, numbing his limbs and even his lips when he licked them, trying to find some way to answer. Even his voice sounded brittle, too cold when he could finally ask, "He gave you the formula? Our formula?"

He had thought that he couldn't be angry at Ross for what he'd done, but he had been wrong.

------------------------------------

He sounded as shaken as she felt when she found out. "I don't know...I don't know what formula it was. Only that it brought me back." If he was worrying about Betty becoming another gamma monster, she couldn't be sure his fears were unfounded. She was still technically recovering but most of the scars were fading rapidly on her person.

Betty put her hands up his neck to tangle in his hair, wishing she could reassure him more.

------------------------------------

After what had happened with Blonsky there was no way to reassure Bruce when it came to any formula Ross might get his hands on, and that he'd used it on Betty?

The voice of reason in the back of his head cautioned him to think before he let the white noise at the edges of his mind burst through.

Would he have done any differently if it meant saving Betty? He let the reality of her warmth sink into his palms and start the first thawing of the ice there.

"Betty." He pulled her more tightly against him, curling his arms around her as though he could protect her from the world. "We'll figure it out. I'll help you every way I can."

------------------------------------

Most people didn't feel safe with Bruce. Because of his alter ego.
Betty felt the opposite, it always seemed safer around Bruce. She rested her head on his shoulder as he pulled her close, sighing inwardly. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. They just couldn't seem to be a normal couple like everyone else.

"I know you will."

------------------------------------

If anyone in the world could trust Bruce and his greener half, it was Betty.

But this... was he going to end up being the only person who could trust Betty with whatever her father had done to her, no matter how putatively well-meaning his intentions had been?

"Will they be coming for you? You're dead now, they can't just have you wandering around."

------------------------------------

She got that determined look in her eyes. "I'd like to see them try. Nobody tried to stop me when I walked out." They probably figured she had taken on Thunderbolt Ross, there was no way they were getting in her way.

"But I don't relish explaining this to my employer." Or any of her friends. Bruce had been the toughest, but to relive this with all of her other friends?? It was going to be rough.

------------------------------------

Silently, he didn't mention his greater concern - that they didn't try to stop her because they were afraid to.

"You said you're still recovering. I understand if you want to call people, and I need to call some people, but do you think you should try to rush back in to your old life?"

------------------------------------

She looks puzzled. "It's only been a few days..." Was it rushing? Betty didn't think so.

"I would like to get back to a lab and see what my blood can tell us."

------------------------------------

"Betty." Sighing, he loosened his embrace and took a step back. "Sit down with me and let's talk about the elephant in the room."

------------------------------------

"What is it, Bruce?" She couldn't understand what he was getting at. Why was he trying to reassure her now? She was fine. She felt fine.

------------------------------------

He reached for her hand, meaning to draw her back to the bed to sit. "You feel fine when you could be dead. I feel fine most of the time, too. Think about it."

------------------------------------

She sits despite disagreeing with him. "Bruce, surely you're not thinking..." It was too terrible to think about. But she was smirking, as if she didn't believe it.

"I had a shouting match with my father. Wouldn't that have triggered something?" Though it was possible she wouldn't change till exposed to gamma radiation.

Who was she sitting next to again? Oh yeah, her severely gamma irradiated boyfriend.

------------------------------------

"I am. I don't want to think it, but Betty, remember what happened with Blonsky. I've seen SHIELD's files on him and one of the effects of the formula he received was significantly accelerated healing."

He squeezed her hand between both of his and leaned forward. "I don't heal like that, but the Other Guy - the Hulk - can regenerate almost anything. We have to consider that there are effects that you haven't seen yet. It's possible that you haven't experienced the right trigger."

------------------------------------

Betty smile fades as he talks, not wanting to think that he might be right. But she couldn't think of how he could be wrong. A slow knot starting to form in the middle of her stomach. She tried not to let it show, but the thought of losing control like she had seen him do...

That was terrifying.

She almost pulls her hand back, not liking to think about that. "You could be wrong." Right? Bruce couldn't be right all the time. "It'll be okay, I'll just get back to my lab and analyze my blood and find out what they used." Simple.

------------------------------------

"I could be wrong," he agreed readily. He wanted to be wrong, but it would be irresponsible not to consider that he was right. "And I'll help you with the samples, but I'm sorry, Betty, I don't think you should try to drop back into your old life until we know."

It had only been a few days, but of all people, Bruce knew how all it took was one day, one moment to change everything for life.

------------------------------------

Betty looked as if she didn't want to just drop everything and leave everyone thinking she was dead. But he was right, she couldn't take the risk.

With a sigh and a nod, she agreed. "Alright." If it was just Bruce that knew, that was enough to keep her going.

"I'll...have to find a lab nobody knows about then." She couldn't very well stroll into Culver.

------------------------------------

He had wanted so desperately to protect Betty from having to make choices like this. It had driven them apart for years, and he'd had far too little time reunited with her before this.

"I can take care of the lab. Maybe not the nobody knows part, but I do know a subversive billionaire who likes thumbing his nose at authority."

He gave her a thin smile. "I'll be with you all the way."

------------------------------------

She finally smiles back, putting a hand to his cheek. "You do meet the strangest people." And he was always so willing to help anyone. That was something she admired about him. "Thank you."

------------------------------------

Betty wasn't just anyone, she was the one. The one that earlier he had been mourning with everything he had. No matter what her father had done to her, she was here, her palm warm against his skin.

"I'll call him." He could only imagine Tony's reaction, but he knew that ultimately it would boil down to carte blanche in a lab somewhere. "We aren't going to be able to hide you from SHIELD for long. They watch me too closely."

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"Alright, I'll..." Betty wasn't sure what to do next while waiting. She couldn't pack anything, this wasn't her place. Maybe she could get a shower and nap in while he made arrangements.

------------------------------------

He could see her indecision in her hesitation and take a good guess at the reason behind it.

"My house is yours while I make some calls. Are you hungry? Tired? There are... casseroles in the fridge."

------------------------------------

She smiles gratefully, leaning to give him a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you. I'll freshen up if that's alright." Claiming the bathroom for awhile. She could use a good soak in the tub but she'll settle for a shower.

Whenever she gets out, a towel around her hair, he'll probably be done on the phone.

------------------------------------

It was just as well that she missed the conversation with Tony. For two brilliant men it had still taken an inordinate amount of repetition to get the situations explained and he had been forced to explain some of it in both bald and alarming terms. At least he hadn't had to explain Blonsky.

"Hey." He looked up from packing packing a some extra clothes into his backpack. "We're heading to Baltimore. Tony's covering a place to stay and access to a lab at Johns Hopkins."

------------------------------------

"Maryland? Wow." Betty rubs her hair with the towel, drying it out a bit. It was farther than she thought they would be going but at this point, she didn't have much for options. A long sigh. "I guess I'll be taking my vacation now." No teaching for awhile and spending time with Bruce in a lab was pretty nice though.

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"We're not working in some community college bio lab when we can have access to some of the best facilities in the country. Stark Industries doesn't do much in the way of biotech, but he doesn't mind throwing money at a problem for a friend."

Zipping the backpack, he scanned the room for anything else he knew he needed. "We can stop on the road and buy you some more clothes."

------------------------------------

"That's wonderful." Betty will have to say thank you to Tony Stark if she gets the chance. Bake him cookies or something nice.

She reaches to confiscate one of his shirts. "I'll make do, it's alright." Betty gives him a smile before going to change. The guy's shirt is a little big, but she can tie the tails around her middle.

"Ready when you are."

------------------------------------

Everything had been in motion from the moment that Betty had appeared in his bedroom doorway, one way or another. He had to take a moment to stop and appreciate that what he saw in front of him.

"You're really here." She wasn't the product of a grieving mind, and even going on the run again, even briefly, was more than worth it.

"We'll take my car partway and then switch to a bus." Maybe he was being too paranoid, but life had taught him the value of paranoia.

------------------------------------

She can't blame him for needing a moment or two to process, things were snowballing rather fast. Betty smiles fondly, lacing her hand in one of his. "I really am. Really here."

There was a small worry though growing now that she saw how her supposed death had affected him. A mental note to discuss this later while on the trip.

"That sounds good." And no cabs. She didn't like cabs and neither did he.

------------------------------------

The lab has been everything he could have asked for. Tony has gone above and beyond the call of friendship or teammates in acquiring the facilities and supplying a place to stay not linked to either Bruce or Betty.

What he can't do is change what he's seeing on the screen as the last of their test results are displayed.

"Betty. You need to see this."

------------------------------------

Betty had been working on a few blood samples of her own, processing them down to their base components. When Bruce called, she came over, putting her glasses on her nose to read what he was looking at.

"Did you find something?" Betty asked, almost hoping the answer was negative.
[to be continued...]
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Elizabeth (Betty) Ross

April 2014

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