Liars, Hammock, and this piece are what's getting me to rationalize the state of this ship dammit Joss
Disclaimer: I own nothing, regret nothing, and let them forget nothing.
You're never as good at hiding it as you think. You put up a cool front, alluringly so, almost enough to fool. You've got ice in your veins, but I know from experience that not everything in our veins is natural. Even though you were raised by intent and I was a casualty of an accident, I still should know my own kind when I see them.
That lullaby. The callback. A shot of ice to the veins, transferred skin to skin. I couldn't tell you what it was to your face; just another list on the big guy's casualties. I know the feeling, though; like a distant dream, it floats through my mind, and I can't tell if it's a memory from yesterday or years ago. Fingers across my arm, something about a sunrise, and a snap back to reality. I've gotten better at breaking through, although- as we saw- not perfect. Nothing close. You can't close Pandora's box after everything's been left out; all you're doing is keeping hope sealed up.
The first time, it was clear. When the rage broke, it was immediate, only when I returned to form. You staring me in the eye, trying to keep time, trying to keep your cool. I knew. For a moment, the ice had melted. Fear isn't hard to discern, even and especially from you. Whether the fear or the reveal is more real I still can't say I know, but I don't think you can tell fear and vulnerability apart.
Now, it's routine. A code word, a password to stop a nuclear meltdown, one even I don't know. You wake me up, and you look indifferent, if not a shade pleased that at least something in our wayward plans could go right. It's routine, but sometimes I still can tell, even if you can't. Beneath the blank slate expression, the hint of unshakable confidence, you still know that playing fire has immolated many a fool. I assume you can't be part of the team without sticking your hand in the flame and hoping you're the least burnt. Sometimes hoping you're more burnt up than anyone else. Situational, really.
It's strange how people gravitate to each other. Even if circumstance pulled us together, and often splits us at the seams, genuine bonds have still been forged even in the most unlikely, unwitting of circumstances. Who was it who said "We all want to help each other. Human beings are like that"? Whoever did could as well have coined the business card for our ideal. Idealistically, we all want to protect each other, bring peace to the human race. But ideals got us into this mess in the first place, and they mean nothing when you can already see the fractures between us. We are all so unalike, so self-destructive yet self-assured at the same time, desperate to prove our strength even when it's ourselves we beat to a pulp.
Then there's you.
The feeling of your hand touching one of my fingers and tracing across my unholy skin becomes clearer every time, as a chill to the core that disassembles the monster within me. Why you? It takes Stark a massive doppelganger and billions of property damage to provide whatever healing elixir comes from the flick of your wrist. Whatever drug you have, I've become addicted.
I used to think we were so unalike. The emotionally vulnerable scientist, the unflappable assassin. One who couldn't risk being around people because he feared destroying them like a flower beneath his step, the other taking only minutes to assemble a communication device while imprisoned. One a bookish, secluded mess with an unkempt face and glasses that could stop a bullet, the other a razor-wire spirit of confidence, cutting through conversation and danger with not a fray in her fabric. I'm hardly a poet, but even before Thor threw his hammer on the machine I knew a vision when I saw one.
Yet, you and I weren't just allies. We weren't just hostile soldiers in an unbreakable band of brothers. As much as you tried to hide it, you weren't just a trained assassin for hire in a group of idealistic do-gooders who ideally did good. You cracked wise about how you always had to pick up after us boys, and would talk distantly about me to my face while I pretended not to get it. If I were even a touch more naive, I'd have fallen for it faster than I fell for you, but I've spent too much time alone to know when I see myself in someone.
Others caught on even before I did. Even Clint, who had planned to name his child after you, noted that you were more open with me than you were others. I suppose it was obvious to anyone with a pulse and two minutes around us. Talking in the back of any casual crowd, the last-row-students we were born to be, more intimately involved in conversation than Thor would be in his drink and Rhodey would be in stories that went nowhere near as far as ours could. I think it was the fact that, to me, our conversations were normal, even mellow for someone as vulnerable as I. I don't think I caught on until it was too late that such conversations were unbelievably personal to you.
Once I knew, I wanted to know everything. I wanted you to be able to tell me anything you needed to, even more than you did. Every fear, every painful memory, every relief, every joy. I wanted you to cry, but only if you needed to. Laugh, but only if you wanted to. Anything and everything I would do to provide to you even the most remote equivalent of the healing powers your hand could provide.
I only realized this when we hid out at Clint's. At first, it was a relief, cathartic to see that at least one Avenger could live a normal life with only relegated scars, while Norse Gods stepped on Lego statues and cryogenic supersoldiers ripped logs in half. The normalcy was pleasant, telling me more about how Clint became our silent anchor than even he knew. But envy has a way of creeping up on people, especially when every new hallway and every renovated doorway shows more of what fate denied me.
You slipped my mind for a time; I've always had a habit of falling into myself. You mentioned that Clint's child was going to be male, which meant his name wouldn't be Nathaniel. You joked, or at least I thought you did, that Natasha was a strong enough name for a male, but when I saw you wandering in the child's room, it all clicked. When we talked further, when you revealed more to me than you ever had, I realized it. I realized you wanted to leave a piece of you on this Earth, when I once just wanted to leave it be, so I could never leave my mark on it.
I remember holding you afterward for the briefest moment, realizing that we were two radically different shades of the same sandpaper cloth. Circumstance and fate would mold us into monsters, which was all we saw in ourselves, while seeing the beautiful human in each other. At that moment, I'd never have left. Every talk about the escape plan was true, from both of us. I knew it. I could tell as we sat together in rare moments of peace that you were thinking, envisioning a normal life. I know that you could read into my face the same, including both of us, the idea of Bruce and Natasha being human again more appealing than the hope to be as powerful as the Hulk or as Indestructible as the Black Widow.
I only realize too late that I fell too far to remember the truth. You could escape. You could shed the black jumpsuit, dye your hair as blonde as rays of sunlight, move to Prague and make pottery for a living if you so egregiously decided. You could live any sort of normal life, talk to any psychiatrist to move past your scars, meet someone you loved and could swear your life to, adopt any child and spoil it as rotten as you wished, protecting it from danger or letting adversity make it as strong as it made you. A road map in the stars hangs over your head every step you take.
I will always be followed by the other one.
It used to be a point of angst, of self-pity. Even as I grew personally, or even in that state, I'm still a scientist. Every theory is based off of observable fact, that no matter what life I try to live, what kind of person I try to be, it's simply impossible for me to escape.
Reality fell down the pit with me when you launched me down it. I should have caught it when you kissed me. For a moment, that was escape, the escape plan was plausible, and it was happening; the idea of a normal life seemed more tangible than ever. Then, like a true black widow, the poison set in, and Bruce disappeared again, leaving the Hulk weaker than ever.
More than ever, I was as close to coherent as it got. It still largely operated in the same see-a-thing smash-a-thing vein, but this time, I knew that was my objective. I knew that the rage was being focused, and that I could control it towards things that made me angrier on sight. That's how you control rage; direct it. Punish those who wronged you. Revenge is the closest thing to sanity I have.
But, for once, it wasn't revenge that made my choices for me. It wasn't anger. It wasn't fear. For once, the base instinct to take action made me smarter, and the singleminded thought track made things clearer. There was no self-pity, no self-loathing. Just one clear choice. Every theory is made up of facts, after all, even the escape plans.
There's no reason to tell you where I am. I can always be found. Right now, I'm trying to find a nice, solitary place on this Earth. Somewhere quiet where I can rest easy, think things over. Work on theories, find any goodness that's left in science. Something like Clint's home- quiet, intimate, welcoming, something I can make mine and be happy to have done so. The blessings from saving the Earth come in being able to make it home.
If you want to find me, I know you will. If you loved me, you will. If you hate me, you will. It's the indifference I fear, but it's what I'm prepared for. Somewhere, no matter how many tears might leave your eyes, there's still ice in your blood. I wonder if it having your hand to the flame as much as the rest of us have has melted it yet. Even as far gone as I am, I still fade into dreams every now and again, and when it's truly just me and my thoughts, I regret that I've left you more wounds than I desired to heal, but I wonder if that's just the Hulk inside of me getting even with the newfound scars I have with your fangmarks in them.
Even if it's just inside your soul, whether as shrapnel or a bandage, I can always be found.