Title: Fair Play
Disclaimer: Only my words, not my characters. Except for Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce.
Summary: Playing favorites isn't always unfair.
Notes: Super super super belated birthday fic for Hermeown, who originally asked for Bridle!fic. I apologized, since I am still exercising my long!fic sabbatical, but promised Green!spawn. Unfortunately, it wound up being more about the Greens. All the same, I hope you enjoyed it Un-beta'd.
They always ask her why she's given all her kids the same name.
There's more than one answer. The easy one is she likes the name Bruce. She's always liked the name Bruce.
But isn't it confusing?
If the kids aren't around, she says No, of course not. If they are, all she has to do is turn her head and call for one of them. Bruce, she says. Come over here. The right one always comes scurrying up to his or her mother.
At this point whoever's asking is thinking that she's fucking with them, that she's arranged it with the kids so whenever someone asks she and Butch already have a system in place to make it look like they know what they're doing, naming all the kids Bruce. Whether Buttercup and Butch know what they're doing isn't the issue. Most of the time they're pretty sure they don't.
They're our kids, she says, he says. And they know their kids. That, they're pretty sure of.
The hard answer is one she chooses not to share with people, not even her sisters, not even Butch. It has to do with names and how they mean something, how they make you special. She likes her name enough. Sometimes when Butch is growling it under the covers in the dark she even likes it a lot. But she never can seem to shake the memory of the brief blankness in the Professor's eyes when he first named her, and even though she never doubted that he loved her it always made her wonder if he loved her a little less than her sisters.
She thinks that probably isn't true. Knows it isn't true. Probably.
Buttercup remembers how that memory ate away at her growing up, filled her with self-doubt and other-people-doubt and made her lash out as a teenager, the way everyone expected her to. Of course it affected her relationships with her family, friends, and boys. Always boys. Butch, too. But less now.
She is terrified that her kids will feel the same way, that they'll grow up doubting the strength of their mother's love for them when they can't even imagine how much there is, how much she does. She is terrified that secretly she really doeshave a favorite, one that she loves more than the other four, and does her damnedest to be fair to all of them.
She even has nightmares about this, but only sometimes. Once or twice. The first time all her kids are stuck in a maze that they can't get out of, and she's tearing through it as they cry for their mom, and when she finally gets there she stops and just stares at them while they cry and cry and cry, because for some reason she can only take one with her and she doesn't know who to take, and then she wakes up feeling wretched. The second time the kids are trapped in a burning building and this time Buttercup has learned her lesson; she doesn't hesitate and grabs them all and runs out of the building as it collapses in on itself, flames licking at her heels. And then she sets her kids down, awash in relief as she scrubs the ash from their faces.
What about Dad, oldest Bruce asks, and points back at the smoldering rubble as his younger siblings begin to wail. Buttercup turns, all the joy and relief sucking out of her like fire sucks oxygen.
Butch. She always forgets about Butch.
Thinking about it later makes her laugh, at least during the daytime. Her kids don't cry, and they certainly don't wail, unless it's wailing of the beating-each-other-up variety. Real threats for them don't involve mazes or fire; their superpowers would make easy work of both those things. And Butch would want her to take the kids, if it came to them or him. At least, she thinks so.
At night these things don't really make her laugh that much, and when she kisses Butch she can't help but feel guilty about forgetting him and leaving him behind, so then she kisses him harder. He doesn't complain about that. No matter how hard she kisses him, though, no matter how hard she hisses his name or squeezes or arches against him, it never leaves.
When she's lying next to him afterwards, both of them panting and waiting for their hearts to slow down, she reaches for his hand, which he's gotten used to letting her take. She thinks of it as some sort of apology as they slip into sleep. Here, Butch. Sorry I'd leave you behind. At least the sex was good, right?
He doesn't say anything, of course, because she doesn't say it out loud and he's already asleep.
She confesses it to him one night. Both dreams, and what she'd do.
He looks over their youngest at her—the whole family watched a scary movie that evening, and Bruce crawled into bed with her parents, sullen and angry that she was scared enough to want to do so at all—and blinks.
Oh, he says.
Does that bother you, she asks.
It's just a dream, he says, and shrugs. He doesn't seem too upset about it, which makes her feel even guiltier, oddly.
I just feel bad about it, she tells him.
Oh, he says, then adds, You shouldn't.
She waits for him to continue.
I can take care of myself, he says.
Well, that's not the point, she tells him.
Oh, he says, then asks, What is the point?
Well, she sputters. Well. Well. Well if it was between the kids and me, who would you choose?
I'd choose all of you, he says. He doesn't even hesitate.
Are you just fucking with me, she asks.
I'd like to, but we've got company tonight, he says, indicating Bruce.
No, like, I mean, she says, and trails off.
He stares at her awhile while she frets and tries to work out what she wants to say.
I think that means you're a better person than me, she says finally. You'd save your entire family. I'd only save the kids. It's not fair to you.
It was just a dream, he points out.
I don't think it's just a dream, she says, feeling terrible.
Oh, he says.
I'm sorry, she tells him.
Okay, he says, and adds, I don't think that makes me a better person than you, though.
How do you mean, she asks.
I mean, he says. I mean. You're a good guy. You're always thinking about other people. I'm a bad guy.
Not anymore, she interrupts.
I'm still, sometimes, he says. Anyway, good guys worry about other people. Bad guys worry about themselves. I wouldn't, I mean. I can't. I don't know what the fuck I'm saying. But I'd choose all of you, because I'm selfish.
She stares at him.
So I don't think I'm a better person than you, he tells her. You're a good guy. I'm a bad guy. You'll be fair and make the tough choices. And me, I'll just be selfish.
He doesn't look too torn up about it.
I don't think you're a bad guy, she tells him.
I must be doing something wrong, then, he says, and it makes her laugh. He makes her laugh. He makes the kids laugh. He's so great. Sometimes. Tonight's one of his better nights.
I'm jealous she picked you over me, he tells her, and nods at Bruce.
I'm sorry, she says to him, smiling.
Yeah, you're a bitch, he tells her.
And you're a good guy, she tells him.
Oh, he says, and smiles at her. Crap.