Snuggles The Symbiote
"That's a bunny in a field of flowers," I said to the green-haired psychologist holding up the inkblot cards. "Or maybe stars. stars or flowers."
Next card. "That's a human pelvis and coccyx turned upside down." I blinked. "Yeah. You should make sure that's not an x-ray that got mixed in by accident or something."
Next card. "That's a pair of butterflies with their backs turned to each other fluttering above a pair of chipmunks who are high-fiving each other while preparing to sumo wrestle something off in the distance."
Next card. "That's a sword stabbed into a pile of dirt. Giant angel wings are coming out of the blade."
Next card. "That's a Decepticon logo tattooed to a really, really fat guy's back."
He only had six cards. The last one was a shocker. "That's a photograph of Deadpool without his mask, wearing a black 'goth girl' dress on the left side and a striped black and white suit on the right side. He looks like he's screaming or singing something."
Doc Samson flipped the stack over and looked the last card. "How in...? Something to figure out later."
I laughed a little. "So, Doc, am I crazy?"
"No," he said. "at least, I can't say from the Rorschach test alone. But all of your answers are normal if that helps."
"Not really," I admitted. "I know that the Rorschach test is subjective and isn't widely used anymore so really giving normal answers is meaningless. I'm kind of concerned that you're using it."
"I'm sorry," he said. "Most people expect it, and I don't normally work with patients as young as you. I thought that a quick test like that would relax you, because..." he sort of gestured to the area around us.
"Because therapy doesn't work if you're not comfortable and it might be hard to be comfortable sitting in a secret bunker built under Area 51 established by a sociopath who makes General Ross look like Mister Rogers for top-secret, technically super-illegal Anti-Hulk operations but then got co-opted by a new Hulk-personality who calls himself the Devil whose working with a Harpy, a superpowered zombie-version of Rick Jones, a pretty scientist lady, and you to tear down human civilization as we know it for the sake of preserving the world and the human race as a whole?" Yeah. The Hulk's adventures had gotten really weird and scary ever since he took an arrow in the brain.
"Don't worry about it," I said with a shrug. "I'm more worried that Doctor Strange thinks I'm bad off enough that I need The Hulk's personal psychologist to handle my case."
"That is not something to be worried about," Doc Samson reassured. "It's not that your case is particularly severe. I've been given the rundown about what you've been through, you're actually handling it very well. Doctor Strange referred you to me becuase I have experience handling superhuman issues." He took a moment to think. "For example, an ordinary psychologist might be off-put by being in a room with a child who can breathe fire, bench press billions of times her own weight, or control the weather."
"...Doctor Strange says I'm a God now," I admitted. "I don't want to be a God. That's... What am I going to be the God of!? All the good stuff is taken! 'Greetings mortal, I'm Ashley, God of Baked Potatoes!' It doesn't work!"
Doc Samson tented his fingers and leaned forward. "Is that really what has you most concerned about in regards to that?"
I blushed. "No... I just feel like a hypocrite... Being a god is supposed to be a higher state of being. Your body and senses are greater and more intuned with the spiritual and mystical world than a mortal's, but it's not just power... Like, there's something spiritual about it and... I've never really been super religious, but my Grandpa used to joke that we were Thorites becuase he was in a bar once when Thor came in to try to pub's craft beer and bought a round for the house, so I looked some things up. Being a God is like, down to the fundamental nature of your soul. If you're a God, you're a God in mind, in body, in spirit... Down to the individual quarks and gluons that make up the fundamental structures that your body is made of." I shrugged. "I guess... I don't like the idea of someone who isn't a God claiming to be a God. If they're not as strong as a God, it's a sign of super mega issues with ego and if they are then... Well, in the movies people like that tend to act more like Ancient Zeus than modern Thor."
"And you don't want to be like that?"
"No, I don't, I... For as long as I can remember I've wished I was big and strong so I could help people. I guess a God can do that but I never wanted to be... Above people? Like, I want to be the kind of Hero who shows up with a big smile on my face and says 'there's no need to be afraid because I am here' and people think 'everything is going to be okay.' Not like... Whatever the people of Latveria think when Doom gets off his butt and does something useful instead of being a tyrant."
"I had this huge meltdown about not being a God and how stupid it was to consider mutants Gods and shot a photonic blast at that one Order of X creep who wanted to kiss my feet because I'm related to Apocalypse... And now I'm an Elder God. 'Cahf ah nafl mglw'nafh hh' ahor syha'h ah'legeth, ng llll or'azath syha'hnahh n'ghftephai n'gha ahornah ah'mglw'nafh' and all that and let me tell you, it is one Hell of a mind screw knowing that that's all real."
"Yes, I can say from personal experience that confrontation with deific cosmic horrors can be a life-defining experience..." That was... Okay, I didn't want to know. "I may be considering opening a support group for people in that situation, something to keep in mind. Now, did you choose to become a God, or did it just happen?"
"I ate thousands of pieces of a Primordial Elder God's shadow, many of which were saturated in magical, divine, or cosmic energy and the DNA and essence and junk of Gods and Fairies and Demons and Eternals. Did you know that a Celestial, you know, the thousand-foot tall cosmic beings that are to Gods what Gods are to ants basically fed itself to She-Hulk? And now I've got some of that in me becuase I took in the piece of Venom that's been in her since she was a member of the Fantastic Four... Technically two pieces. Carol Danvers got imbued with She-Hulk's powers and memories and soul-juice...and Captain America's... Iron Man's... Black Panther's... Thor's... Hawkeye's... It wore off, but it happened and all of that power, memories, and DNA got recorded by the piece of Venom she got during the Siege of Asgard. I should have known better. That doing all of that..."
"What the Hell is wrong with me? When my... Rampage first started, I started with the X-Men. I was already really, really strong from the powers I had, a bit of blood that my jerkface ancestor tricked me into drinking, and the Codices I already took, but... Did you know that Wolverine once got infused with the combined skills, knowledge, and powers of Doctor Voodoo, Doctor Strange, Daimon Hellstrom, Mocking Bird, the Thing, Spider-Man, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Carol Danvers, and someone named Victoria Hand? The piece of an ancient, godlike symbiote that's been in his spine since Vietnam knew that." That by itself... I'd considered changing my superhero name to Da Vinci becuase that by itself made me the ultimate Renaissance man. "Then there's Colossus, who didn't really give me anything I didn't already have but was still a decent power boost, and Angel whose had all kinds of different cosmic powers over the years that basically elevated me to the status of a Cosmic Being and unlocked the full potential of my everything. Then I grab the knowledge of a Sorceress Supreme, the power to see everything, teleportation... And the skills of one of the world's best swashbuckling swordsmen. The powers of several Omega Level Mutants and the Guy whose power is producing millions of times more energy than he takes in... and the last two both had a couple of upgrades after the time they wore Symbiotes." My heart was starting to race. "It's like, by the time I was done on Krakoa I was somewhere between a Dark Phoenix and a Franklin Richards. That should have been enough... But I still wanted more, and..."
"Ashley," Doc Samson said with a raised hand, "I'm going to stop you there. There's nothing 'wrong' with you. Doctor Strange has theorized, and the science backs it up, that you became addicted to the process absorbing the remnants of symbiotes within people. Once you started binging, no amount would have satisfied you no matter how many you consumed or how strong you got. That's how addiction works..."
"Yeah, we talked about that, but..."
"It seems to me, Ashley, that you suffer from anxiety. You seem a little pre-occupied with what other people think of you and your past mistakes. I could tell that you were starting to work yourself up into a frenzy just now, so take a couple of deep breaths."
I followed his instructions. Half a minute of breathing exercises helped. A little.
"Tell me, do you often find yourself worrying about every little thing?"
"No... Before this happened I was mostly happy, but... People keep getting hurt around me and it always feels like my fault and when I think about it I start worrying about everyone around me, and then..."
"Okay, I think I've heard enough," Doc Samson picked up as I trailed off. "It definitely sounds like you have some problems with stress and anxiety. In the coming weeks, you and I are going to try to find out why that is, and then I'm going to help you overcome it."
"Well, there's cognitive behavior therapy, where I help you learn to recognize when you're feeling afraid, stressed, or anxious in a situation where it doesn't make sense, confront the reasons for those thoughts and, ultimately, replace them with more reasonable thoughts and feelings, so that you only feel anxious when it's normal to be anxious." That... Sounded good. "There's also exposure therapy, where we expose you to the kinds of things that make you feel anxious so that you get used to... Okay, no, we won't be doing that one."
His change in tone didn't have anything at all to do with me making myself dizzy by shaking my head.
"Now, you've said that you're worried about being perceived as a hypocrite for becoming a God after publically criticizing the idea of being a God before, but... You didn't become a God on purpose, did you?"
"No, but, I said, I should have..."
No, you shouldn't have," Doc Samson interrupted. "You were not, at the time, in a state where you could think clearly. If you did not know ahead of time when it doesn't matter that you should have realized it with hindsight. You're not a hypocrite Ashley. And no one needs to know that you're a God now. Based on my interactions with and observations with Gods and Godlike beings in my capacity as a psychologist to superhumans, it doesn't really change your day to day life and if anyone does find out about it and starts judging you for it, you can just tell them that you didn't do it on purpose and don't wish to be defined that way. If they're don't accept that and choose to think of you as a hypocrite for something you didn't intend, then they aren't being reasonable and you can ignore their opinions."
"If you say so, Doc..." I wasn't so sure about that. But...
"Now, I think that this is a good place to stop this week, but there's something I want you to do: Regular exercise has been proven to be good for all sorts of mental health issues. Stress, anxiety, depression, and the like. In minor cases, the exercise by itself can be an effective treatment to manage certain conditions. I understand that you've been bedridden for most of your life? But you're in perfect health now?"
"I want you to try and get some more exercise. Go for a walk, maybe practice some of the martial arts skills that you've doubtlessly absorbed, or just run around and play like the kid you are. An hour a day would be best, but twenty minutes or so every couple of days is fine. Do what you're comfortable with, and when you come back next week tell me how you feel."
"If nothing else, getting used to being physically active will be good for you in the long run. Now, I'm pretty sure that your foster-sister has been pacing outside of the door instead of sitting in the hastily prepared waiting room, so..."
Snuggles The Symbiote
"I'm thinking of changing my look," I said casually. "Not my super look or anything, but I wear the same thing all the time in civvies. I'm thinking of ditching the tights and replacing my tennis shoes with cowboy boots."
I was in a generic exercise room in PRT HQ doing pushups. Grace was sitting on my back.
"Yeah. I could see that," she said. "And Ashley? I know you've been calling it a poodle skirt, but technically it's not a poodle skirt if it doesn't have a design on it."
"...And, honestly, I'm not really married to the idea, but after everything that happened... Scout used to be called Honey Badger, but she told me that something happened and the cutesy name wasn't working for her anymore." I was... I was kind of considering... I thought to four catatonic symbiotes that'd been in the batch that Doctor Strange gave me. Riot. Lasher. Phage. Agony. Scream's fellow quintuplets, catatonic ever since their shared host was killed. Their shared host... "I'm only thinking about it, if I want to change my hero name, but... If I do, do you think 'Hybrid' works?" It would be a Legacy name, but sometimes Legacy names work.
Someone came into the room. Grace climbed off of me so I could get up and see... Taylor! ...Taylor wasn't supposed to be out of school for another half an hour, and...
She didn't look happy.
"I was just debriefed on a situation... The Director didn't want to tell you, but I... Convinced her that you deserve to know. There's been a breakout from the Birdcage. The PRT's keeping it underwraps for now so people don't panic, but they think he's coming here and... There's gonna be a meeting this evening to talk about it and everyone it concerns is invited, so..."
My eyes narrowed. "Is it Jack Slash?" If it was Jack, I was gonna ask Doctor Strange to unseal all my Ghost Rider powers and the stuff tied to it. If Jack came after Grace I'd make him feel every bit of pain and suffering he ever inflicted on her and everyone else he's even remotely hurt even a tiny bit.
"No, it's not Jack... apparently he hung himself his first night in the Cage."
"...How?" Grace asked. "I made his spine unbreakable and... Oh," she said as though she was realizing something. "Oh... Yeah, he... He would have asphyxiated... I'm sorry, I... I don't know how to feel..."
I hugged her. She sounded like she needed it.
"So, if it's not Jack, then..."
"About a decade ago," Taylor began, "here in Brockton Bay, there was a supervillain named Marquis..."