Hardly Awkward

May 24, 2018:

Betsy and Banner get to know each other.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions:

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

It is the height of lunch time, and the dining area and cafeteria is packed with students and some staff. The general noise level is high, with so many people present and talking over each other, and the natural sounds made of forks and cups and plates, chairs and mechanical dish collector. Almost all of the tables are full with multiple people. Dr. Banner, though, as always, has a table that could seat four all to himself. He has a laptop out next to his lunch and is making a good show of pretending to not mind sitting alone in the sea of activity. He's near one side of the place, by a window, and there's almost a 'moat' of space around him in addition to his empty table: people naturally sort of inch away to give him extra room, like you might an explosive. On a quick glance, or not knowing who he is, it makes little sense why he'd have that much space to himself: he appears to be a friendly enough staff member.

Today isn't Betsy's first day. But it is one of only a handful since her return. She has eaten lunch in her office while catching up with paperwork since she arrived. But today's a new day, time to get to know some of the staff she hasn't met. Like…that guy over there with a table that might be a little more quiet than the rest of this madhouse.

And so, with a plastic bent box leading the way, Betsy manages to navigate to the table. Her black plum hair is down today, straight and sleek nearly to her waist, and her outfit is conservative. Something that looks like it stepped out of Vogue, in hues of deep teal and a lighter shade of the same dark plum her hair reflects in the sunlight that streams in the window. "Mind some company?" she asks with a friendly smile.

Dr. Banner looks up right away when she approaches, sort of blinks at her once, and changes colors. Not to green, but a quick little blush. He awkwardly gestures directly across from him to the empty chair, and then belatedly also at the other seats. She can take her pick, clearly. Bruce had had one ear bud in, which suggests he didn't hear her. He pulls it with a loose motion of hand, and it falls into his salad. Fishing it out, he proves he did hear, with a reply of, "Not at all," with a reserved, but friendly enough, smile added. He uses a napkin to remove salad dressing from the earphone, with a rueful smile.

His reaction isn't at all uncommon, but Betsy finds it charming, nonetheless. "Thank you," she replies politely, taking a seat beside him, so that her back is to the room, and she can focus on the sunshine instead. "I'm Elizabeth Braddock, but most everyone calls me Betsy," she offers. "Not entirely new here, but just returned from a bit of a sabbatical." She smiles easily and offers a hand, once the ear bud has been rescued from its salad-mired doom.
And— he got some dressing on his hand. Bruce hurriedly gets rid of THAT, on the napkin, with a soft laugh at himself, before extending to shake her hand easily. There's zero pressure in the handshake, not even a bit of measuring or dominance that sometimes can be prevalent in men's handshakes. It's sort of a reserved, lackluster handshake. "Dr. Bruce Banner. I'm teaching biology, and filling in for medical lab, should you need to send anyone to me. I haven't been here too long, myself. A little over a month." Banner smiles, mild.
"Was your vacation pleasant?" Bruce inquires, closing his laptop and not splitting his attention; he takes off his glasses and puts them into a shirt pocket. It helps reduce the Science Nerd vibe.

"You should be careful, Dr. Banner. Unless I'm wrong, the salad here has it out for you." She releases his hand and pats her box lunch as she sets it on the table. "That's why I bring my own lunch. You never know when the food here might get uppity and out of control."

"You should be careful, Dr. Banner. Unless I'm wrong, the salad here has it out for you." She releases his hand and pats her box lunch as she sets it on the table. "That's why I bring my own lunch. You never know when the food here might get uppity and out of control."

Betsy smiles faintly, looking out the window. "The vacation was lovely. I was traveling abroad, just taking in the sights and sounds of the world. Had to find myself again. Seems I'm always the last place I look."

"This is just the price of eating healthy," Bruce sighs, and does give her lunch a jealous little look. "Although really, the food here is something of a dream; I've worked at far less delicious universities and schools," Dr. Banner clarifies; no sense suggesting he's not appreciative. He clearly is. He proves it by having a few big bites of the salad, spearing some tomato with his fork. "Traveling…." Bruce starts to say more, but trails off, and something in his eyes or face closes off. There's a dark place there. "Traveling and I have a mixed relationship," he says with a smile, but the smile doesn't really reach his eyes. He puts his gaze in his salad instead.

"They say you have anger management issues," Betsy states bluntly, with no attempt to mince words or beat around the bush. "That's something I'm qualified to help with, if you're ever interested." She opens her bento box and pulls out her chopsticks, quickly separating out four slices of the roll, which seems to contain avacado, radish, cucumber, and crab, and is garnished with toasted sesame seeds. She sets the four aside atop the box's lid and conspicuously slides it over in front of Banner, alongside his attacky salad. "Healthy's fine, except when it's trying to eat you, one accoutrement at a time," she states dryly, with a wink.

Dr. Banner only chokes a little bit. Then swallows the salad he'd had in his mouth and has a sip of his iced tea. He knows people were told that he shouldn't be stressed out or poked with a stick, but it still surprises or throws him when someone directly wants to chat about it. Banner doesn't hide his discomfort very well, but he grins anyway, stirs his salad, and avoids her gaze. "I've heard them say that, yes," Bruce says, ashamed, but trying to joke. "I've been trying a number of methods to, er, improve my calm. I'm open to new suggestions, though. For the most part things are fine, if I'm not engaged in combat suddenly."

Betsy has no problem sensing the embarrassment he feels, and she tilts her head, looking a little apologetic. "I am very straightforward at times. It can be jarring. Please don't feel ashamed. This is something that is currently beyond your control, and I would like to help you change that, if you'll let me. Of course, you'll want to get to know me better before you entrust me with such delicate matters." Seems odd to call the Hulk a 'delicate matter.' But Betsy does not know the true extent of the problem without delving further into his mind, and she steadfastly refuses to do so.

"Please forgive me for being tactless," she requests quietly, the lilt of her British accent becoming stronger as her voice becomes more emotionally charged.
Emotionally, there's always a lot going on with Bruce. There's just a huge level of self control and awareness in front: a very strong will. Perhaps, in many ways, one of the strongest of willpowers, to keep things in check. The fortress is required: it's a cage built for the angry core, hidden away behind heavy walls. And so the surface is calm and centered, reserved, but there's those threads of anxiety, like the warden of a prisoner that usually is fine, but then suddenly destroys everything somehow. Bruce masks his discomfort a little more, his smile distant but real enough.
"I don't mean to come off as unappreciative, I have learned to be careful about what tests I do," Bruce says, spreading his hands some over the napkin in front of him, flush returning. "I don't know that I follow what you're suggesting. Do you have an ability that's related to this?"

Betsy smiles knowingly, and genuinely, as she reaches out in an attempt to touch Bruce's arm gently, and reassuringly. "I have many years' experience in managing the will and self-discipline," she offers. "But you and I have more in common than you might guess." She cuts her violet-eyed gaze toward the lunch crowd, which is beginning to file out of the commons, a little at a time. There is no one even vaguely within earshot, but knowing this school as she does, she doesn't dare speak aloud. Everyone here has a gift, and you never know when that gift is super-senses.

<I wage an internal battle with another, as well.> The suggestion settles softly in his mind, left there by one who does not tread upon what is not hers. She enters softly, touching nothing, and fades away without another sound. All the while, she holds eye contact. Her expression is, for once, softened, and subtly vulnerable.
Bruce doesn't freak out at first when he hears the thought pressed to his mind; he's experienced telepathy before: he's mellow, though he was confused at first about what she's going to do now. His anxiety spikes at the unknown. What if she triggers something in his head? He can't afford to lose it in a crowded cafeteria. His heart pounds, automatic physical response coming in if he has to bolt from the room to try to get himself away from the children. The unknown can be dangerous: not so much to him, but to everyone around him. Bruce clamps down on the whole thing, though, pushing it downwards.

"Oh. Mind reading. Okay." Bruce promptly makes a really big effort to not think about how pretty she is, because she'll read it from his mind, and thinking about that embarrasses him more, since he's now sure she's reading it, and tells himself to eat his damn salad. "What happens when you lose?" Bruce says verbally, guilty, and trying to focus properly, and eats his damn salad.

"I don't generally read minds," she assures Dr. Banner honestly. "I can. And I can speak to minds. But I prefer to stay out of that which does not concern me. And that which does not belong to me," she adds. "I didn't mean to startle you. I just wanted to avoid prying ears."

"When I lose…well, she wins. And -she- is an assassin. One of the best in the world." Betsy hesitates for a moment. "The goal here is never to lose again."
"Oh, that's an entirely good reason to do that," Bruce nods. He can accept that. And is entirely open to trying to work with and please others. He isn't sure how to respond to her mentally, though. But he makes the effort. Which, if she's not 'listening' mentally, may just mean that he ends up staring at her in a sort of concentrated way.
<My original goal was to never lose. I held for over a year. But then when I did finally lose it was far worse than it had ever been. I lost control for days and days. Mine … uproots cities. I need to moderate in some way. Balance. Not just lock the door and bottle it up forever. Because he will come.> There's a spike of emotion and anxiety around the last statement, a deep guilt and dread, of harming others.

<You are safe with me, and I will keep your confidences. I was not advised or even suggested to approach you in this regard. But I heard in the threads of the story that I have been given, something that echoes my own. If there was anything that I could do, I wanted to try.>

Yeah, seems she was listening for anything he consciously pushed her way. And she feels the dread conveyed with his final thought. Betsy smiles softly, then, and nods knowingly. "I will help you in any way that I can. Perhaps…we can help one another, in that regard."
Help her? He finds that ridiculous, and there's a softened amusement from him. He believes she's trying to be nice to him, and there's a warmth of response from him there, even if he thinks he has nothing to offer in return to her. <Perhaps so,> he says, with a quiet humor, willing to go along with it even if he has doubts about his side. <I know you were likely told to stay well away from me,> Bruce responds to that she wasn't supposed to approach him. Yes, this could have gone badly, but he doesn't seem upset. He's pretty mellow, and seems to be carrying all the responsibility personally, not blaming anyone else.
He finishes up what's left of his salad in a measured and thoughtful way. He's a smart man, just emotionally unstable. "That's usually safer overall." Resigned about it.

Betsy reaches out gently to take his hand. The one not trying to shovel salad into his face. "You misunderstand me, Dr. Banner," Betsy interjects, ruining a perfectly good sulkyhulk moment for him. "I was not told to stay away from you. And if I had been, I would have directly disobeyed orders. So it's fortunate for us that you're wrong."

Whether or not he pulls his hand away, there is a warmth and connection there in that initial touch that she hadn't expected. "That's…why you spend so much time alone?" If he doesn't pull away, maybe she'll have some time to feel out this connection and see where it's rooted.
Bruce clearly considers pulling his hand away, but doesn't. He can sometimes be a little bit of a doormat, and it is perhaps showing now. He looks at her hand there though, and he's out of salad to play with, so he fiddles with the edge of his fork around in the dregs of what's left on the plate. The sulk isn't ruined, he can sulk in all kinds of situations! Including this one, while blushing again.
"It is a safety thing," Bruce explains simply. "A lot of suggestions were made by SHIELD to put me out in a cabin somewhere and do my lessons via a monitor. Lower risk. But we're trying this."

Nodding in agreement, whether or not he realizes the gravity of -her- implications, Betsy repeats his words quietly. "We're trying this."

An awkward moment later, she realizes she still has his hand, and she's totally forgotten to seek out the 'root' of anything. Why chase it down now? It could be something as simple as pheromones. Or the fact that she doesn't let anyone touch her, much less does she touch anyone else. If she does, and they live to tell about it, they're likely to describe it as anything but tender.

A moment ticks by, and Betsy makes a realization. <Oh God, I'm still touching him.> She looks at her hand in his, in alarm. <Oh GOD, did I just say that out loud?> Whew…no, she decided. She didn't. No, she imparted it to him in the most personal way possible. <Oh GOD….>

It's Betsy's turn to blush every shade of the cherry blossom. In the panic of the moment….she has still forgotten to let go of his hand.
Bruce bails her out automatically, and pretends to not have caught any of it. He flashes a relaxed smile and draws his hand away, withdrawing somewhat, granting her the space. Bruce is very very aware of embarrassment and is directly being a nice guy about the whole thing. He diverts carefully, pretending not to have heard anything mentally that she didn't mean for him to. The least he can do.

"I, ah, do want to practice trying to control the shift a little more. But not here. I won't put anyone in jeopardy. Would you like this cookie? I don't think I'll eat it." Look, a chocolate chip distraction!

The struggle is real. Betsy Braddock is impulsive and free-spirited. Kwannon is anything but. The halves of Betsy battle on occasion for control of any given situation, and more often than not, Betsy manages to come out on top. But the mess that lurks beneath the composed surface and serene expression is beyond the guess of most people. Bruce has just had a peek at the chaos.

"I…uh, n-no, you should have the cookie. It looks delicious. I mean, like it would be delicious. If I ate it. Which I'm not going to do, of course, but it's very kind of you to offer. You ate your salad, and you deserve a cookie, and I'll defend you to anyone who says you don't deserve a cookie, because you definitely do."

It's likely that the thoughts blurted in a moment of confusion directly into the mind of Dr. Banner were conveyed with the butterflies with which they were initially realized. Secret's out….Betsy's human, after all.
"Oh," Bruce says quietly, in his awkward but wholesome manner. He looks at the cookie. And splits it semi-evenly in half, and then refolds his extra napkin, and sets half gently on top of the folded napkin. He then slides it a few inches towards her with two fingers. Smiles quietly. And in a reserved way, eats the other half.

The model in Betsy's mentality reprimands her as she blushes, and picks up her half of the cookie. After all, it's only half. When was the last time half a cookie killed anyone?

Oh…that one time in modeling camp when a starving Priscilla Demonte shanked Amy Santiago for the other half of her cookie. Sometimes a cookie is just a cookie. But sometimes…it means a whole lot more.
Bruce sits in the silence for a little while longer, and then moves the edge of his tray slowly with his fingers, looking at it. "Well, I have a class after this next break," Bruce says lamely. His automatic instinct is to draw away from others, and that's happening here. "Feel free to join my lonely table for lunch again if you like, though," he offers, starting to stand up, gathering his laptop into the shoulder-bag he'd looped over the back of his chair.

"Listen…Dr. Banner. Bruce…" Betsy almost hesitates after the way she tripped all over her thoughts earlier. "I know you don't want to try it here. But if you're in earnest, I would like to try and help you. If you trust me. I know you have a harder time trust in yourself than others…but I am certain there is also mistrust there. I want inside the walls….." She leaves the words hanging there to gauge his response, in case he simply shuts her out.
His manner is gentle while it does stay at arm's length. He isn't resisting, not really. Just somewhat evasive. "You may not like what you find behind them," Bruce says, softly, but adds a smile. That makes it all okay, right? "But I came here to help students, and perhaps find some better ways to handle my own issue. In controlled situations where the damage can be limited." Safety first.
"After meeting the big guy… you may feel really differently about it all," Bruce amends.

"I'm not afraid," Betsy says softly, but with conviction. "I think you'll find I am more than capable of protecting myself, should it ever come to that." She looks around at the now empty dining hall. "I don't think that meeting -anyone- will change how I feel about it. "Diving in headfirst is what I do." She stands then, not trying to keep him, but not quite ready to let him walk away. "It would take someoneyoupurposely trying to hurt me to make me walk away. You. Not him."

There's an exhausted sort of look from Bruce about that she can protect herself. He doesn't argue with her, though. That probably would get them nowehere. He pulls the bag over his shoulder, cleaning his tray and plate up, taking it over to the receptacle. He isn't trying to ditch her, though, she can follow him without any negativity from his end. "If you dive in headfirst, well, maybe I take it back. You have some things in common with him," Bruce jokes in his softened, deadpan way, smiling.

Betsy walks alongside him, half-smiling at his attempt. "The difference is, there is a purpose behind my efforts. Not only to protect others. But also to protect you. Not that I mind joining you at your lonely table. But I'd like to see a day when that table isn't necessary, even in your own mind."
"Well, I'm glad to be here at all, and not in total solitude. I don't want to damage what I have going here," Bruce explains as he finishes putting his cup onto the rack as well, and turns back to her. "Sometimes smashing has a purpose on occasion. At least, I heard. Tony certainly thinks so," Bruce isn't so sure about that. "But I'm not much of a gambler. My luck could be better." A bleak smile shows, and he gestures some towards the door - suggesting that it is fine if she follows, but they should let the cleaning crew get to the cafeteria. Hurricane teenagers hit it, after all.

Betsy smiles at his reply and nods, finishing buckling her bento box as they walk, and she exits with him, as an exasperated-looking cleaning woman looks over the devastation with a solemn grimace. Hopefully, she brought backup.

"I imagine there is definitely a purpose in smashing. I see a purpose in every little thing." She walks on in silence for a moment before inquiring, "Do you live here in the mansion, then? Or off the campus somewhere? Where do you go for peace when you're here?"

"I have a room here, but I also stay at Stark tower off and on, I'm still on retainer there to help with some of the research effort. Sometimes I'm at the Triskelion - that's the SHIELD headquarters. I guess that sounds like I'm spread a little thin, but I like staying busy and distracted," Bruce explains, adjusting the strap on his bag some against the side of his collared shirt. "Mostly I find a quiet spot out on the grounds, or the park just south of the school."

Betsy nods quietly as he lists his host of residences. "Sounds to me like you have a lot more people who want you around than you even believe," she chides with a playful nudge of her shoulder against his. "I'm all for distracting you, but in the end, as you said…distract too long and it comes round, full force." Did she -really- just say she wanted to distract him? Sounds like some cheesy come-on. Might as well ask him if it hurt when he fell from heaven.

Bruce clearly doesn't really know what to do with the positive comments, other than to really take them at face value, not as flirtations. Unaware? Probably. Or just making an assumption that she can't possibly be doing that. "Right. I almost broke Nebraska last time. I need to come up with a better spot to let, ah, steam off." Nebraska, yes, he said Nebraska. But then, it was all over the news, the giant blood-vomiting Hulk-like monstrosity that was active several months prior.

Betsy lets out a low whistle. "THAT'S the big guy? Looks like I'm going to have to cook in larger quantities." She smirks, letting it go at that. "So where DO you go to let off steam, so to speak? I'm not sure the danger room's even up to that kind of abuse…"

"I… don't," Bruce says, uncomfortably, shoving his hands down deeply into his pockets, as if subconsciously restricting the ability to even be touched or comforted about the issue. He shrugs some more, but gives her a brief smile. "There isn't really a place."

"Well then…I suppose we'll a have to find a place. We can't test our limits without a place to do so." Betsy hooks an arm through his, whether or not his hands are in his pockets. "I'm serious about this. I'm excited to see if it works…Actually, I can't believe that it won't. Not for a second."

"It really could just make it worse. I don't generally, um…. Well, I don't EVER, really /invite/ the shift over. It's usually I just lose it and things happen and I sort of learn about it later. I mean, I know that I can. I think so, anyway. I haven't really DONE it," Bruce fumbles verbally. "Switched on purpose. Not other—- you know what I meant." Gaaah.

"Well then…" Betsy pulls him a little closer and grins mischievously. "Maybe it's time that you DID it…" Is she enjoying this? Oh yes. Probably too much.

She's going to break poor Dr. Banner. He doesn't have a good answer, opens his mouth at her, flushes scarlet, coughs, looks at his feet, manages not to trip over nothing. Successfully walking is important. "Not /here/," Bruce says, more seriously. "We're fortunate last time wasn't a bigger problem. Only a ceiling and some walls—-"

"Well then, we'll find a place. The only way you'll ever learn to control it is to experience it. Over and over again…." She glances sidelong at him as they walk. "Inviting it, I mean…."

“I’m not entirely certain we’re talking about the same thing anymore,” Bruce says in a thoughtful deadpan, giving her a rueful sideways look, a brief press of his eyebrows together. In between bouts of being embarrassed, he can return a playful volley, it appears. “But you wouldn’t be the first to push for the other guy to come out. I’ve accepted that for some reason, people really like him better. I don’t /understand/ it, but.”

Betsy pauses, halting him in the process, and turns him to face her, holding his biceps so he can't turn away without effort. "Bruce, I don't want to make him come out. You are who you are. I like who you are, and I didn't even expect that. I don't -like- many people….But I like you. I don't want to MAKE him come out. I want to help you learn to control when he does. And how he does. Because it seems to me that is something that you want above all else." She winks. "If I tease you a little along the way, well…I'd apologize if I was sorry."

ruce is very easy to direct to where she wants him to face. It's simple to lead him, he's quite accommodating physically. He kind of just smiles vaguely into her comments. He drops his eyes from hers towards the middle of it, though, and to the side. There's a distance here, there's going to be some work to cross the walls he has up. "I was half teasing. It's okay," Bruce says, even if it's not okay. He didn't want her to feel bad. "But yes. Not being a time bomb that suddenly goes off would improve my life," Bruce chuckles. "But today the bomb ticks; I have to prep my class. It was nice to meet you, though, Betsy," Bruce says, gently, drawing a hand from a pocket to offer to shake hers again. He's pulled away emotionally. But this is normal for him. He won't drag others down into his problems.

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