She stared across the landscape with an expression of absolute despair and loss.
All this death...and for what? So a bunch of inbred hicks could claim they were better than everyone who wasn't like them?
Looking at all the dead with absolute disgust, she turned to the spectral form standing silently beside her.
"I'm ready. The sooner I leave, the happier I'll be."
"Once we set this in motion, you will have to wait many years before your magic resets and you're able to turn back."
"As long as I keep my mind and remember why I agreed to this, I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, I'm just stuck in my animagus form."
The spectral figure nodded, and she felt herself shrink fur sprang from all over her body and the scar that had plagued her for years vanished permanently. She could still talk to animals, which was an upgrade from the original gift, but she would have to relearn how to use her magic.
A small price to pay, considering she was already hearing rumors of a marriage law in the works, to repopulate their society.
Not her problem anymore.
When she first met Bruce, her initial reaction was to keep moving to the next town, playing as an innocent cat.
That was before she saw his eyes. She knew those eyes.
He was alone, and he could use some company that accepted him.
Which was why she followed Bruce back to his tiny, dirt hut with hardly any of the essentials. All he had was an old gym bag, some books that looked well worn, and threadbare clothes.
He didn't even have a proper bathroom.
So she stuck around, kept an eye on him.
And from what she saw, he had a forced isolation.
On a whim, she took down a wild chicken and brought it to him. Sure it left drag marks, but the look on his face was worth it. The fact he shared it, more so.
From there it only went downhill. After a particularly vicious dog left her with a bleeding paw, never mind that she won the fight, Bruce takes her to the local medicine woman, who she immediately can tell is a witch. A very powerful witch who isn't entirely fooled by her feline act.
"This cat has witch eyes."
"Witch eyes?" repeated Bruce. He had been debating what to name his new 'pet', because honestly he believed it would vanish the second the other guy showed up.
"You've never seen the cat's eyes properly, have you? No normal animal has eyes that clear or bright."
Bruce looked her in the eyes. He could see what she meant. No normal kitten could take out a chicken and drag it half a mile to his hut. He knew...he had traced it.
"Can you fix her leg?"
"Sí, but will take some time for it to heal properly. Your cat will not be able to hunt until leg heals," said the healer.
Which meant he would have to actually treat it like a pet, or her leg could heal wrong and become lame. And considering this was in the back country where cars were usually very, very old indeed, it was unlikely she would be able to survive with a bad leg.
"Five hundred pesos."
Bruce counted out the faded bills, which the woman accepted without asking. She fed the cat a potion, and told him to keep away from fennel for the next week. It would completely mess with the healing potion she had given the cat.
It was when he was back at his dirty shack that he seriously considered keeping the kitten he had found.
And for the next seven days Bruce took care of the cat as if he owned it. Strangely, having it around and even sharing his tiny bed made it easier to keep the Other Guy calm and sleeping.
After the leg was healed and the cat could hunt again, Bruce thought for sure it would up and leave.
Instead it immediately jumped onto his shoulder and started purring up a storm.
"I suppose this means we're a team now, huh?"
"Which means you'll need a name."
The cat, much to his disbelief, gives him her full and undivided attention. It was more human than he wanted to think about.
Bruce had, in the course of the week caring for the cat, thought up a dozen different names and tossed aside just as many. Finally, he settled on one that kept coming back.
"From now on your name is Bruja."
The cat tilted it's head, curious.
"I tried thinking up a better name, but since the medicine woman said you had witch eyes, I figured that was as good a name as any. So Bruja, for the Spanish word for witch."
The cat seemed to accept that explanation, because she rubbed her head against his cheek with a purr.
So now Bruce was in the tentative possession of a pet cat. An unusually intelligent pet cat who seemed to understand how to play games...he would claim temporary insanity due to only having Bruja to talk to... and was extremely adept at finding things he could sell for quick cash to buy food. And Bruja isn't picky about her leftovers. Most of the time anyway.
And for a blessed three months in the middle of nowhere in South America, Bruce goes without a single episode of the Other Guy showing up and ruining everything.
Then some drug runners find him...or more specifically they notice him during some highly illegal activity that he couldn't bring himself to care about and decide to make an example out of the foreign doctor.
Only things don't go according to the usual script of threats, pain, rage and the Other Guy making an appearance and ruining their day.
Well, actually it does, but it's the aftermath that causes the deviation.
He assumed Bruja would get scared and walk off, and he'd never see his temporary pet that kept him calm and incident free.
He never thought for a second the Hulk would recognize his cat, and rather than roaring at it pick the feline up and put it on his shoulder, much like Bruja had a habit of doing and acting like some sort of furry parrot. Or for the cat to be holding his emergency bag around her neck when he did.
When he woke up, it was closer to Rio than he remembered...and Bruja is there on his chest, staring him dead in the eye with this strange mocking purr. Almost like she's telling him "You can't get rid of me that easily Banner."
His acceptance of the newest addition to his life was quiet and unremarkable. But he found that he actually was a cat person, and that at least he had something to talk to, even if it was a cat.
To his eternal shock, not only does the Hulk accept Bruja's presence...she in turn has a strangely calming effect on the beast that lives inside his soul. He found himself reaching triple digits of days when he didn't have an episode, of where the Other Guy remains quietly in the background asleep.
It would come as little surprise to Bruce when he finally got his hands on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s file on him, that under a picture of Bruja was a very clear note stating "DO NOT HARM OR THREATEN!"
Apparently he wasn't the only person who noticed the cat's strange calming effect on the Other Guy...or the fact that he was quick to wake up if the cat was in any danger.
Bruja would sit on his shoulder like a furry parrot while he read his books, and after the first time he noticed it Bruce started reading it to her and explaining as if she were human.
The cat was an attentive audience and she would nip at him if he turned the page too quickly.
Slowly but surely, he was starting to have a semi-normal life between episodes.
Calcutta. It was amazing how much people who were sick and barely spoke a word of English opened up when you had an animal that didn't object to strange hands petting them.
Especially the kids. They were afraid and none too trusting of the American doctor who was helping their parents...but the moment Bruja's black-furred head popped out of his jacket or onto his shoulder, it all dropped away.
Bruja stayed on her best behavior while the kids petting her, sometimes even pulling her tail, and kept them calm while Bruce treated their families.
It was amazing how much people let their defenses down around friendly animals.
And they were more than happy to hide him in exchange for the fact he treated them so cheaply. He didn't even demand payment for his help, just the cost of the medicines.
He had only been there for a couple of months, but he felt as calm here as he had back in Rio.
Unfortunately that peace couldn't last.
It started simply enough. A little girl showed up with some American cash clutched firmly in her hand begging for help.
What was unusual was that everyone in the area would have known Bruce was treating something contagious and deadly, and that would be more than enough to get people to avoid the house for a few days.
Which made the fact she ran up the stairs with little to no hesitation something that set his inner alarms going off.
And if that wasn't clue enough, Bruja took one whiff of the money and jumped onto Bruce's shoulder. He could feel how tense she was, meaning she smelled something she didn't like.
So Bruce followed the girl, but he was clearly wary. And to emphasize that something wasn't right, Bruja immediately jumped into his shirt and curled around him.
She only did that when something was about to happen. Generally something that he wouldn't like very much. Even if was a sort of early warning system, Bruce had to get used to the feeling of her fur rubbing against his back when she popped out again.
At least she was considerate enough to claw his shirts, and not his skin.
Bruce figured out the second the girl ditched the ramshackle house that the whole thing had been a set-up, not that he hadn't guessed that from the start.
The red haired spy was clearly looking for something while she spoke to him. It took him a moment to realize that she was clearly trying to find Bruja.
And that actually amused him greatly.
"I have to ask... Did you people create some sort of file for me or something?"
Natasha, realizing she had been caught out, had a sheepish sort of smile.
"They added a notation after Rio to make sure you had your cat with you," she admitted. Seeing him clearly amused by that, she visibly relaxed.
Amusement was a far cry from the mindless rage and destruction the Hulk was capable of creating.
Bruja carefully popped her head out his shirt, and Natasha had to do a double take.
"Your cat is in your shirt?"
"She can smell a set-up faster than I can, so she gives me subtle queues when one shows up."
"So what's your answer Dr. Banner?"
"If I agree to this, will I be allowed to leave after?" he asked bluntly.
"All I know is that you were the best person we could reasonably ask to help us find the cube. You'll have to talk to Director Fury for travel arrangements after," she replied honestly. The fact that they might need to bring out the Hulk was an unspoken possibility, but currently not on the table.
Bruce wasn't happy, but it was also clear that he had limited options. He just hoped Bruja didn't react badly to being in a plane.
"We also brought a carrier in case...Bruja...gets antsy in the plane," said Natasha. That seemed to make him relieved. He had seen what happened when she got angry. He didn't need a nervous and claw-happy cat on his hands.
As they boarded the jet, Bruce kept a firm hand on his cat, and the carrier was close enough that he could put her in very quickly.
Bruja didn't even care. She just rolled over and went to sleep.
"That is one laid back cat," said Natasha.
"If you think the Other Guy is nasty when he's angry, you should see how bad Bruja is when she's mad. I think the last drug dealer who stepped on her tail had to go in for emergency surgery, and stray dogs learn pretty fast to leave her be," said Bruce.
"May I?" asked Natasha. She wasn't an animal person, but there was something about Bruja that made people want to pet her. It was like a universal reaction to her presence.
Bruce gently moved his cat onto the seat, and Natasha marveled at how silky the cat's fur was. It didn't take much before she rolled over and started purring her head on Bruce's lap.
Before they knew it, they were on the helicarrier.
"If I were you, I'd put Bruja in the carrier now, before the ship moves. It'll get very loud and might startle her," advised Natasha. It was hard not to like Bruja.
Bruja clearly didn't like the carrier. She kept giving Bruce dirty looks, and Natasha had a hard time not laughing when she saw them.
And when the helicarrier lifted off, it was clear the cat gave as much notice to the noise level as she had with the jet. Aside from pinning her ears to her skull, she didn't so much as blink an eye.
Bruce was quick to let her out once he was in the lab. She put her back firmly to him, making it clear she was mad at him.
She forgave him when he put a chicken sandwich with some extra butter next to her. She loved chicken.