Duck Pond and Pretzels

April 02, 2018:

Bruce Banner is having an anxiety attack, so he calls his friend Natasha for help in calming down. She meets him at a duck pond in Westchester to have a casual conversation together.

Westchester County

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It's mid to late afternoon when the call comes in. From one particular Dr. Bruce Banner. He really is only supposed to call out of the blue without messaging if it's important. So the underlying meaning is certainly that it is probably REALLY important, considering how much he avoids doing what he should be doing a lot of the time, when it comes to being in trouble or not. And she can trace his location freely if she wants to.

Physically, Bruce secreted himself off in a corner of an outdoor tennis court at the Xavier estate. He has sat down against the chain link, crumpled. Not that she'll see any of that. A phone call alone, if it's not video (and it isn't yet), won't show the details.

Natasha was in the Triskelion south of Bruce's location by about 45m via car. She's located in the shooting range in the weapons testing area and has been firing off rounds out of her sidearm at the motion targets setup there in the range. Her phone was mounted in a pouch on her hip and the pouch itself is designed to vibrate when her phone does, so as to make it quite obvious when its ringing.

Natasha checks her weapon and excuses herself from the range when her phone does indeed go off. She's now stepping into a quieter 'break room' beside the range. "Banner." Natasha when she answers the call, holding it against the right side of her face. "Whats going on?" She asks him in that familiar husky toned voice of hers.

Anxiety explodes. "I-I shouldn't have called," Bruce says after a long empty pause where he just failed to breathe or think. He forgot even what his opening was going to be. He leans his head back against the fence, and the rattle of the metal flutters into the phone as soft background noise.

"I thought - I think I'm okay." The tone suggests zero real assurance in that. "I needed to get out of my head for a minute."

Natasha's green eyes have a puzzled stare as she's listening to the anxiety thick on the man's voice. She's walking slowly across the break room toward one of the vending machines, no particular reason.

"I've been there, almost hourly in fact." She softly replies to him in a very calm voice which is pretty much her standard tone. "You want to tell me whats been going on or would you rather talk about something else entirely?" She asks him then.

Natasha is prepared to call out a Green Alert on this situation if she gets the idea that this is only going to get worse. (Green Alert being a far different thing when it comes to Bruce Banner).

"I'm not sure that explaining it won't make me worse," Bruce has to admit, with a laugh that suggests there is really zero humor here. His usual, deadpan, rueful humor. So at least that is still there: if he were starting to snarl at her, that's when the green alert would really be needed.

And then he talks about it anyway. She asked. And Bruce tries to please. "I'm at the Xavier Institute. Someone here— reacted very badly to me. I don't know HOW he knew what I become, but. I don't respond well to death threats. I'm holding it together though. But I broke my glasses." So, that happened. "How are you?"

Natasha is putting a few quarters into the machine to get a lemonade while Banner lightly explains what has gotten him all riled up. "A death threat?" She asks him while crouching to get the bottle after it *ker-thunks* its way to the opening on the machine. "I think thats a rather bold response given your job at this new school. Who would do that, there… of all places?" Nat knows enough about Xavier's to know its supposed to be welcoming of people with powers and trouble controlling them.

As she turns around and holds the phone against her shoulder while opening the lemonade. "I'm doing well. Just emptying a few rounds into the training dummies to blow off some steam. You need me to drive out there and take you out for a burger or something?" She asks him then.

"He claimed I'm a danger to the school and have no control. He's not wrong. He waved these blades in my face, and I did react. And he pointed it out to everyone there, that I — He's not /wrong/." Yet obviously Bruce is talking to her, and is missing the point that he did actually contain it. Although he's not in a good place, and this hold is tenuous. His voice is getting a bit strangled from withheld emotion. Sounds like sadness, mostly. "They'd asked me to teach biology." A limp comment. "I'm not hungry right now." Missing the point. "And I shouldn't be with people." Maybe he doesn't miss the point.

Natasha's eyes narrow after she sips her lemonade, narrowing because of the 'waved blades' part of what Banner just said. Knives? What kind of crazy place is Xavier's? "Well thats good, because I'm not really people anyway." She jokes with him in that dry sense of humor of hers. Natasha is already moving out of the break room and toward the hallway to head toward the Triskelion's parking garage. "You're up in Westchester, right?" She asks him. "Why don't you take a walk down to Salem Center, they got a park there… Apple Park. There's a lake with ducks and the whole nine yards of cliche Americana relaxation. I can meet you there in about an hour."

A lot of silence. Bruce doesn't feel like fighting on every front right now. "Okay." That's it, then just quiet. A melted, loss of an agreement, but it's there. He stares across the tennis court, and gets up, starting to just… walk. Probably the wrong direction, but he'll sort that out. At least he's moving.
"We can be not-people together, I guess."

Natasha is smirking in that half-cocked way that is all her own at his words. "Thats right." She replies to him. "Xavier's faces south, so just go down the front road… Greymalkin Lane, I think its called, and then turn left and you'll be on your way to Salem Center, can't miss it… well, unless you blink. Don't blink." She jokes a bit more with hile making her way onto the elevator. "I'll be taking my fast car, so I'll get there really quickly. Unless I'm arrested." More humor from the Black Widow. "So was this your first day of school? Sounds like it went great."

"You you have a headset? Not safe to drive while listening to a depressing guy," Bruce replies at the fast car comment. The deadpan thing again. He's struggling, but is still giving this an effort. He did call for help.

"No, it isn't even the first day. No classes yet. I don't know if I should stay to see those."

Natasha is walking out into the parking garage then and smirking at the words from the Doctor. "Something like a headset, yes." She responds to him while making her way down rows of cars. "So the job isn't looking like too good of an idea?" She asks him back. "Do you want me there next time you go and talk to the Staff of the place? I'd be happy to be your counterpart if anyone else is going to throw Death Thrats at you. They'd probably think twice about it if so." She didn't know Logan, but even if she did, she probably wouldn't have responded well to him doing such a thing to Banner.

"I wanted to teach. It's been a while. I liked —- being part of a faculty again." The lonliness issue, as always. Banner and his attempts to fit into things only for it to explode due to the green guy. It's a cycle.

"I don't know. He didn't just declare it out of the blue. He claimed I killed some people. I don't remember it of course. But I have to take responsibility." Banner has a decent sense of direction, and has managed to make it at least to the main driveway, walking along. "He said some other things that made no sense. Some other reality? I don't know, honestly." Bruce's tone is tired.

Her car door opened, Natasha crouching and getting inside it while putting her lemonade bottle into the secured cup holder between the seats. "I see." She tells him. "Well, Bruce… my first two responses to this are… One, we need to get you on a seriously high quality level of medical marijuana to keep you nice and relaxed, and Two… do you have this man's name who berated you at the school?" She was grinning lightly again while her car door is closed and she's got the vehicle primed up without even needing to use a key to turn it on. And when her phone leaves her face it automatically syncs with the car and now they're talking through the car's internal comms.

Bruce actually suddenly laughs. It's not a deep laugh, but it's something. "I have medications. But I can't /think/ on them. I'm not me either. Admittedly, less destructive. I wasn't going to teach while /high/," Bruce answers, amused. "Oh. You mean /now/. I could go back and get that." Bruce doesn't seem to be fighting her at all on any of her suggestions.

"Yes, it was in front of most of the other faculty. He's Logan. I didn't get a last name. Mr. Summers - I'm sure you've heard of him?-defended me, but, like I said. If I did those things, he deserves to get to unload at me, doesn't he?"

Natasha's car is pulling out of the SHIELD facility while she hears this and gently sways her chin side to side. Her left hand slides a pair of sunglasses on over her green eyes while her car emerges out onto the city streets beyond the SHIELD compound. "Come on, Doc…" She starts. "If the kids knew their science teacher was high during class, they'd respect you even more. Thats how kids are. Four twenty blaze-it, its only two and a half weeks away you know." How much does Natasha know about weed? This is disturbing. Once she's got her car on the street she takes both her hands off the wheel and the thing starts to drive itself, even in NYC traffic. "Don't go back to Xavier's yet. Let me head out there and talk to them either tonight or tomorrow, I'll figure out whats going on there and how to go at it. If you like to teach, then we need to find a way for you to do that."

"Honestly I'm too agitated at this point. I'll just burn the weed out of my system," Banner admits honestly. "At a certain point all of that doesn't stop it. It's just… me." No more crutches, just Banner himself and his will. Banner walks quietly, still following her directions. "I'm closer to the pond than to Xavier's now, I think. I'm guessing, though."

Natasha is holding her tablet computer and she's got a map of Westchester pulled up because its been awhile since she was there. She's got a street view of the area and figures she basically knows where he's at as her car is driving northward out of the city. "Its a beautiful place, huh?" She tells him, seeing it on her tablet and remembering when she was there last. "I was out that way about two years ago during an October celebration. You should see some Apple Park signs coming up on your right. There are wooded pathways that lead into it. There are other people there, most likely, but its going to be few and far between. Its a big place."

"Yeah, I do. There's a wood path here, and a way around to parking I think. I'll go sit by the pond when I see it," Bruce says, guessing that she might want to get off the phone for a little bit. "I hope you brought a jacket, it's chilly," Bruce adds, trying to pull his brain out of his own problems to think about someone else. He at least has that going for him, a light coat.

Its only a matter of a handful of minutes before Natasha is walking toward the bench that Banner finds himself on and during those few minutes he'll find himself staring out over a perfectly calm and mirror-like body of water that does have some ducks on it and a lot of tall trees casting their reflections off the water with the late-afternoon sky behind them.

Natasha takes a seat on the bench with him and she reaches over to offer him a pretzel from a bag of pretzels she had. "Hey." She says at him then, wearing a black leather jacket over her shield uniform to help conceal her uniform since this is a casual meeting. "Feeling any better?" She asks then, smiling lightly at him.

Banner looks at the pretzels at first, as if he might refuse, but then extends a hand to take one out, and fiddle with it in his hands. "Hello, Ms. Romanoff. Thank you." For the pretzel. Or more.

"I don't know." He's honest, dreadfully honest, at least. "Talking is helping. I think. Distractions do. But I'm pretty good at staying focused— sadly," Banner smiles down at the pretzel. Her astute awareness of emotions will read him as highly anxious and suppressing it. He was a little jumpy when she sat down, and still is. It's a tension thing, a skinny fraying rope stretched.

"I really hate my life right now," Bruce admits, his voice thickened with emotional pressure. "I'm tempted to just give over. Get angry. And not think for a while. I think this is how alcoholics get. Like, the empty place at least isn't /this/."

Natasha listens closely to the man while he speaks. She spares a moment to look down into her bag of pretzels and then up toward the water while the bag is set down on the bench between them. "I don't know, Doctor…" Natasha says. "I mean, I know you're going through a lot and seemingly will be for what could be the rest of your life… But." She motions around them with one hand. "Look around us, this place is nice. You're here with me, and I'm great." She glances at him and gives him a sly grin. "You got enough brains to get almost any job you could want, even if this one doesn't work out. I know it seems like its bad, but you've got it better than some out there do. You need to try to find some peace in that… Because I think its there, you just have to embrace it. Remind yourself that its there. You can't change who you are, nor should you. You're a good person."

Natasha listens closely to the man while he speaks. She spares a moment to look down into her bag of pretzels and then up toward the water while the bag is set down on the bench between them. "I don't know, Doctor…" Natasha says. "I mean, I know you're going through a lot and seemingly will be for what could be the rest of your life… But." She motions around them with one hand. "Look around us, this place is nice. You're here with me, and I'm great." She glances at him and gives him a sly grin. "You got enough brains to get almost any job you could want, even if this one doesn't work out. I know it seems like its bad, but you've got it better than some out there do. You need to try to find some peace in that… Because I think its there, you just have to embrace it. Remind yourself that its there. You can't change who you are, nor should you. You're a good person."

Bruce mostly looks at the pretzel, but finally looks around when she gestures. And at her, a little bemused, and blushing. But red on him is a lot better of a color than green. "Yes. I know better. Than to let this devour me. Or I should know better." He's a smart guy. "Fearing it only makes it worse." He finally eats the pretzel.

"It's occurred to me that I need to work out a ..better method of going in and out of the green. That I probably need to test easing into it, to see if it can help me learn to come back better. But I don't know how safe it is to mess with."

Natasha's hands go into the pockets of her leather jacket and she leans back against the bench and looks over at him as he talks, she's got her sunglasses up on her forehead so her eyes are visible, green pupils looking at the man, studying him like she studies everyone.

"SHIELD can find a way to make that a controlled experiment." She tells him. "There has to be a way to make that a safer thing to do. One where we have 'him' contained, but can help you ease out of the Green One's control. Because you're right, if you could gain control of the personality swapping, then you'd have yourself a rather powerful tool rather than a powerful headache."

"Going in is like… not even anything," Bruce sighs, and …does a possibly really scary little demonstration. He tenses his jaw. Green flutters in thick up his neck and forehead, and through the backs of his hands, a slight flux. And then drops away. Back to where he was, at any rate. He doesn't seem any more concerned than he did before. "But— there's a threshold. That I fade out. And I don't remember anything anymore. I've seen it loads of times on videos. Sometimes it's instantly. Sometimes not. Depends on what I'm exposed to."

Natasha is just eyeing him whilst he speaks and gives his little demonstration of the beginnings of the changing process. She flutters her eyelashes a little at the sight of it, but otherwise remains seemingly completely calm and unaffected by the prospect of the 'Hulk' being so close to appearing right beside her… maybe she didn't fear him at all! She didn't seem to in the hangar when she'd asked him for the ring. Or maybe the super spy is just damn good at hiding her emotions.

"Look." She says after a moment of silent staring, her eyes now going out toward the lake. "I'll do everything in my power to help you come back from Him when and if it happens again. There may be times where I can't, where the rage is beyond what I can even consider to effect, but I'll always try to get you back as soon as possible. So have faith in that, that there's at least one person 'out here' who'll be trying to help you back from the edge."

Banner watches her with a 'why' in his eyes that he doesn't actually form into asking. He does appreciate the lack of fear. The demonstration was not fishing for FEAR reaction anyway. It wasn't meant to ruffle her, it was exactly an honest demo of exactly what he said it was, and he felt he was under control of it— and therefore did it.

"I don't like putting you or anyone at risk with him." Bruce says quietly. And flushes red.

Nat's eyes are going down toward her lap as she's re-grabbed the bag of pretzels then and is inserting her thumb and forefinger into the bag to fish around for a good one. At his response she grins then while lifting the pretzel up out of the bag. Her eyse go back over to him then and she's grinning. "If you did like putting people at risk, then I doubt I'd be here right now enjoying this fine evening with you like we're both senior citizens." the pretzel is put into her mouth and she crunches on it and looks back out toward the water.

"Maybe. But I should be able to handle it without bringing anyone in," Bruce asserts, with dismay at himself. "…But I can't. And I can see I have limits." And sometimes needs help. He can recognize that. He watches her eat the pretzel, amused. "What, would you rather do something more spy-oriented, like skydiving?" Bruce questions. "I don't even need a parachute. I'm a cheap date," he deadpans, and steals a pretzel.

Natasha doesn't mean the stolen pretzel, but she does grin at the cheap-date line and then she slowly shakes her head side to side and after she's cleared her palette she's glancing back over at him. "Actually, I really am senior." She tells him then, waiting for his vague reaction to those vague words and after he pops that pretzel into his mouth she continues. "I'm ninety years old." She admits to him then before looking back out toward the water. "So between this and Jeopardy… I'd call it a perfect day." A sidelong glance at him again though. "I got Jeopardy on DVR waiting for me back home."

Bruce Banner doesn't freak out about it. He's curious. "I haven't aged recently. And I seem pretty indestructible. We may be having this same conversation in another 90 years," Bruce finally decides to say, more gently. He slid very well out of focusing on himself to focus on her. Probably surprisingly effective, to calm him in that way. "Are you good at Jeopardy? I know too much science trivia. I'd annoy."

Natasha's right hand comes up then to draw the red hairs that had been blown across her face out of the way and back behind her ear on the left side of her face. She gives the man a faint smirk and then shakes her head. "You'd think as long as I've lived that I could wipe the floor with the questions, but… until they come up with a Spying category, I'm probably fated never to make too far on that show." She gives him a little grin then. "Then we'll have to come back here in 90 years and make sure to bring a loaf of bread for the ducks. Sound like a plan, Doctor?" She asks him then, seeming in a good spirits as she's smiling more warmly than usual.

Bruce considers and offers a hand, for a very serious handshake. He's smiling more too, and the anxiety has dropped down a little. He's never NOT stressed, but she has had an effect. Pulling his attention off himself is a great strategy.

"Right. Yes."

Natasha turns to face him then and she extends her hand to accept his. For a woman who claims to be as old as she is, she sure doesn't look it and her hand is as soft as silk for someone 'they say' is as deadly as she is. "A deal." She says, and they shake on it.

A second later and Natasha is standing up. "Now come on, there's a sushi place here in Salem Center that is fantastic. You're going to love it." Apparently she intends on going to get some food with him, especially since the sun is starting its downward roll on the western horizon.

END

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