Thanks again for all your amazing comments! It really encourages me to write...

Well, I had this chapter done a while ago, then my computer decided to go and basically have an internal 'splosion, which led to me with lost data and no computer. I then had to do jobs and stuff to scrounge up enough money for a new one. So, yeah- there's my personal sob-story.

Anyway, this chapter is basically fluff, but that's all to cushion you guys for the next chappy: 'cause it's gonna be intense!




Natasha and Clint were sitting at the table.

Talking. In hushed and secretive voices, as it was five o'clock in the morning and they were the only ones awake and chewing thoughtfully on the eggs JARVIS had so kindly cooked for them.

"I wonder what her story is," Natasha ruminated on the sliver of eggwhite under her tongue, large eyes narrowed in thought.

"Has to be pretty interesting," Clint bet, downing his orange juice in a decisive gulp. "She screamed twice before waking up."

"Yeah," Natasha snorted. "I know. I heard."

"And you and I are the only ones who did."

"Well, besides Bruce," the ex-Russian added.

"Besides Bruce," Clint agreed.

Natasha hadn't gone to investigate the twin shrieks in the night; from the intensity and length she knew they were obviously from a recollective dream. As a result, she'd shrugged to herself and plunged back into her cat-like state of aware sleeping.

Clint, on the other hand, had the inbred curiosity to look around after the despairing, cutting wail sliced through the air. Ripping off a generous hunk of bread, he said around the mouthful, "Huh, yeah. The two were cuddling Papa Bear-and-Baby Bear-style. Pretty sweet to see." He thought about it for a second before smiling, snorting, and swallowing the huge bite.

Natasha stared at him, considering the man. "You're disgusting," she decided.

He chuckled again. "If you heard what they were saying-" he stopped mid-sentence, and Natasha knew why.

They all had dreams. Reminiscent dreams of bygone battles and past hurts; for Clint, it was the rasping sharpening of a blade waking him up in the middle of a night with a hand searching for a bow. Natasha often woke on the floor, gun in hand, the trainer's voice ringing, strident, through her skull; neither could listen to Chesnokov.

Once Bruce had described his own hellish nightmares to them; the staccato pulse of a gun shooting through his head during the night, during the shower, during a show. They sometimes found Captain America at three in the morning with a mug of coffee in one hand as he gazed wide-eyed out the window. Thor spoke constantly of Asgard and Jane Foster, and when they found his missing journal pages, their eyes couldn't help but snag on the haunting sentence '... and the emerald eyes stare at me. I often attempt to convince him I still find him still my brother, only to be rebuffed with sharp and unkind words I care not repeat'.

But they were never comforted. They all trapped themselves in their minds, captives of their proud psyche, unwilling of help.

Clint couldn't mock the childish words which spilled from Cambria's mouth, nor the awkwardly comforting ones of Bruce, because it was all necessary.

"I wonder what her deal is," Clint repeated.

"She's never served in the military, I know that," Natasha replied with confidence. "Probably a childhood trauma or something."

"Rapist dad. Alcoholic mom. Suicidal brother, druggie sister." Clint released a mirthless bray. "There are some pretty happy combinations out there. Wonder which one."

"But S.H.I.E.L.D. would've caught the mental imbalance," Natasha countered.

Clint had his bacon in hand and was pointing at her with it as he gnawed on the other end. "Ledgers can be cleared, remember? Erased."

The femme-fatale remained unconvinced. "I doubt she's a seasoned computer hacker."

He bit his lip. "You got a point." Then he asked, a mischievous boyishness creeping into his expression, "Are they still... sleeping... together?"

Natasha's eyes widened before lowering to a crushing glare. "Don't you even think about that."

He raised his hands in defense, the repulsively ebullient smile still sneaking around his face. "Don't worry... I'll wait 'til ten."


His eyes fluttered open, the lids dragging across the dry surface of pupil. Frowning, he reached up to massage moisture into his sore eyes, releasing a breath of tired air as he did so.

He slowly reached for his wire-framed glasses, tucking them onto his face and deliberately examining the room with a sleep-deprived, squint-eyed gaze. It took his mind just a moment to remember the odd yet tragic events of the night before.

Bruce sat up from his unsettled sprawl, tucked deep into the cushion of the chair. He had slept on his left side, and, as he ran his fingers wearily through his hair, he examined the forced colic with his adept but calloused fingers.

Cambria was but a bump under the thick, muffling, stark-white blanket, curled with her knees to her chest and chin completing the lock-in fetal position. She was rotated towards her, the heavy shock of white-blonde hair matted into a pacifistic, deflated whorl.

He sighed once more, squeezing the bridge of his nose with pained intensity, faintly shaking his head.

Brian Banner released a guttural, primal roar, flipping over the coffee table, face set in a terrifying mask. The table smashed into the window, glass shattering all over-

He turned his head sharply, blinking away the scene.

- his mouth a yawning, ghoulish 'o'. Rebecca stepped forward to shield her child, only to be kicked in the gut by her husband and knocked to the ground.

His breathing increased and he leaned forward, face pained and hands over his ears, desperately trying to rid himself of the memory. Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Beryllium...

Bruce screamed as the knife shallowly grazed his skin, piercing through the body of his mother, whose last movement in life had been to throw herself over her young child.

He stood up sharply, bolting into the bathroom. He stared piercingly at himself, quivering fingers wrapped around the edges of the sink.

His large eyes were frenetic and panicked, hair a beacon of wayward and lost emotions, wild and uncared-for. The weathered face bore one line each for Thunderbolt Ross; Betty; Blonsky; Rebecca; Natasha; Brian; Tony. And now a shadow was just starting to form for Cambria; he didn't even know her!

He glared down at the sink, chest slowing in its frantic heaves. He once again raised his sorrowful head to gaze blankly into the mirror.

After a few seconds of worried capturing of self-control, he shakily entered back into the bedroom, glancing once at the silent, fitful Cambria before before opening the door of the bedroom and stepping into the glow of Stark Industries, Malibu.

He'd been here before. Three times before, actually.

Pacing softly across the elegant, modern crib of Tony Stark, with the swooping, sleek pillars and walls made of windows, he climbed up the stairs to the kitchen.

Thor and Steve were there, side-by-side, Steve cradling a mug of coffee in his muscled hand, Thor shirtless and munching silently on a stack of Pop-tarts piled high on his square plate.

"Banner," Thor nodded. "I greet you."

"I... greet you too, Thor." Bruce said, voice husky in the crisp air of the morning.

Steve dipped his head in acknowledgement, a quick gesture Bruce mimicked in reply.

Just then Tony strode into the room, clad in an Ozzy Osbourne shirt and jeans. He picked up the cup of steaming caffeine, waiting for him on the counter. His nose disappeared behind the rim of the cup as he ventured a sip. "Everybody have a fun night? I sure did."

"You could call it that," Bruce muttered before starting to search the cupboard for cereal. His comment was recieved in silence.

Pepper swept into the room then, abuzz with news and deadlines. Tony pulled her in for a liplock, which both Steve and Bruce averted their eyes for. Thor watched with oblivious glee.

When Tony turned around, eyes shimmering, he said, "Wow. Should I take my shirt off, too?"

It was with knotted brows that Bruce looked down to see his olive-colored chest and its resident curly black hair, below which he was wearing a pair of solid boxers. Then he glanced at the also-shirtless-but-much-more-muscular-tan-and-overall-more-appealing Thor.

"I'll be back," he said darkly.

Rummaging through his duffel bag, he had a myriad of identical button-up shirts, something he realized shortly after finding his one t-shirt, a 'Stark Expo' one Tony had presented him with on his first visit to Stark Inc., Malibu.

After staring at it resentfully, he shrugged it on, dragged on some jeans - also Tony-given and approved - rejoined the team by the counter.

Natasha and Clint had joined the zombie-like party, identical cups of coffee in their capable hands as they leaned warily against the counter. They were dressed in their drastic, serious uniforms; black on black on black. The two gave him an identical sideways look, strong and pentrating gazes lingering over him longer than usual before returning uneventfully to their coffees.

Bruce sat down with the bowl of cereal, listening to Thor become increasingly boisterous as the sleep wore off.

"I would like to experience more of this Midgardian culture," he told everyone in his bass voice.

"Yeah," Tony agreed with subtle dryness. "So is that before or after we get Cap hooked on po-"

"Well," Pepper said with suspiciously impeccable timing, "that sounds great. We'll get some regular clothes for you, and we'll see if anybody else wants to come, and it'll be-"

"I'm out," Clint said.

"So am I," agreed Natasha quickly.

Steve quickly muttered a hurried sentence and excused himself.

Bruce glanced at Tony just as the billionaire turned to look at him.

"Shall we play?" Bruce echoed Tony's line from a month previous.

"Follow me, Doctor."


Cambria leaned upward, head hanging between her knees. Her eyes were screwed shut as the dreams from the night previous looped through her head with frenzied intensity.

She tipsily found her way to the floor, standing to her feet with some unsuredness.

She hoped she hadn't screamed. That could cause some problems and generate some questions that she didn't want.

Cambria Vale: Psychologist with more issues than any of her many charges. Suffers from PTSD, most common symptom being waking recollective nightmares. One screwed-up little twenty-six-year-old.

Padding to the bathroom, she leaned against the doorframe, staring into the mirror. She had to rearrange her face before going out- she had to put on her persona, something she'd been practicing since the second grade. She could thank her parents for that.

Her eyes were drooping and sad, a fact she corrected by tightening the surrounding muscles and angling them into a mischievous gleam. The tips of her mouth threatened to sag, and she bit her lip in a roguish, charming movement. Her hair was matted into a submissive knot, so she ran her fingers through the mass to give it some life. The edges of her shoulders were curved sorrowfully inward, so she forcefully pushed them back into a defiant, hard-cut square silhouette. Sucking in her belly to form a smooth c, she observed the jaunty, strong character with approval, turning to stride across the bedroom and out into Stark's building.

The kitchen was empty, nobody to be seen anywhere within her view.

So, preparing a makeshift breakfast consisting of cereal and milk, she trotted down the pristine, clean-cut wooden steps. "JARVIS? Where're Tony and Bruce?"

"Down in the lab. Would you like me to assist you there, Miss Vale?"

"Sounds good." And with that JARVIS began listing off directions, Cambria carefully carrying them out.

Her job was to stay close to Bruce and get to know his secrets. That's what Coulson had said; he was her main patient. How could she go about counseling him without being overtly obvious? How could she go about counseling anyone without being overtly obvious?

Cambria could shrug personas and attributes like an ill-fitting shirt; she'd been doing it for so long she was no longer even sure of what her true personality was. Not that she cared too much. It was just like she was a true method actor, never coming out-of-character, only switching to the next one when needed. There was her current personality she had locked into, 'Oblivious Sarcasm', along with several others, the most prominent being 'Removed Genius', 'Intense Controller', and 'The Seductress'.

But her current one was her favorite.

None of the others would be able to battle Tony Stark as well as Oblivious Sarcasm; Genius would have stuttered out a pathetic quibble, Controller exploded and unleashed her wrath, the Seductress letting out a husky laugh and approaching him suggestively.

"The door, Miss Vale," JARVIS interrupted her pensiveness. They had just gone down the steps and were now peeking inside the glass screen; a row of high-class, billion-dollar cars lined one side of the room, a plethora of high-tech pop-up mirages littering the air all around. Tony was tapping away at one of the holograms in front of his face, brow furrowed while his mouth chattered on busily to Bruce, who was leaning against the counter, fiddling with his fingers. He was clearly enraptured with what Tony was saying.

"Call me Cambria." Not awaiting the robotic reply, Cambria rolled her shoulders as Oblivious Sarcasm would, twisting the doorknob and bursting inside.


"She'd be quite a catch, Doctor." Tony insisted.

"Really, I'm fine- the last relationship I was in... didn't go so well." Bruce answered in the customary wry, almost detached tone, husky and dry.

"Yeah, I know, General's daughter and stuff, but Bruce." Tony turned to him sincerely and found the scientist absently, dejectedly observing his nail scratch into the counter. "Have you seen that girl's ass?"

Bruce let out a short, humorless laugh and turned to meet Tony's eyes, head cocked with fed-up temper. "You don't understand- you have money and mansions and nice cars and Armani suits. You can get any girl with a nice... posterior... that you want. A scientific green wreck working in the sickness capital of the world isn't exactly a chick magnet. Besides! I don't even like her."

Tony could tell Bruce was uncomfortable and was enjoying every moment of it.

He turned as the glass door exploded open, Cambria striding in, a wicked grin on her babyish features.

Bruce rapidly turned a violent shade of red, coughed, and pivoted to continue his research on the thick laptop.

Tony looked at her. "Ah, look who it is. Cam-bree-uh Vale."

"And you're Anthony Hopkins, right? Nice to meet you." She turned to Bruce and bowed. "Mother Teresa."

"Wouldn't exactly say that, but... thanks anyway," Bruce muttered, typing busily at his computer, peering through the glass lenses down at the screen.

"You worked in India, right?"

"That..." he let out a rough laugh, "hardly equates me to Mother Teresa. I don't think she had an uncontrollable green giant locked up inside of her."

"Hey, man. Maybe she did."

"Yeah, man." Tony chimed in, turning to Bruce. "Maybe she did."

He looked at both of them, eyebrows raised. Then, snorting, he turned back to his text. "You two are ridiculous. You're like... potassium chlorate and sulfur."

Tony turned to Cambria, holding out his knuckle solemnly.

"What the hell is he talking about?" Cambria asked.

"Potassium chlorate and sulfur. Two elements that feed off of each other when mixed."

"Hell yes." Cambria bumped her knuckle against Tony's.

The billionaire watched sharply as Bruce chuffed, a slight smile of amusement on his face before he shook his head and returned to his computer.

"So what are you working on?" The girl wandered over to the gleaming row of priceless automobiles, inspecting Tony's favorite '32 Ford Flathead Roadster with the hot-rod red flames dancing across the exterior. She traced her finger along the flame, her mischievous expression flickering for a blazing second in a brief, telling tic.

Tony, studying her through a veiling hologram, stored this in his expansive mind and continued working. "Don't want any grubby little fingerprints on that one," he called to her, near-monotonous save the omnipresent wry sarcasm.

"We found some of the other guy's blood on Tony's suit," Bruce explained, absent, while gazing intensely at a projected chart. "We're just running some... general tests."

Cambria jerked open the car door, sliding inside.

"Ah-ah-ah!" Tony called, rapidly spinning to point an accusatory finger at the almost-thirty-year-old. "Get out of the car. Not that I don't trust you with it, but- I don't. Please exit the vehicle."

"You said 'please'! Good boy there." Regardless, she scooted herself out of the car, making her way across the lab to Tony. He concealed his slight surprise when she stopped herself merely a few inches away from his face.

"I try," he said, taking full note of her close proximity and the way Bruce's lip jerked up in a sharp twinge as his fingers hesitated before the hologram.

"Doesn't seem like it," she rummaged in her pocket before coming up triumphantly with a shining black iPhone. "Got your file right here."

"And I especially like the first-generation hunk of metal."

"So do I." She answered quickly, gold-brown eyes swiftly flicking to Bruce before settling back on Tony, her hand sliding back into her pocket. "So what's the plan for today?"

Bruce was decidedly mute, so Tony rattled off with a challenging note, "Well, you're the Project Manager. You tell me."

"More of a babysitter than anything else- I'm just here to make sure no one goes apeshit. How the hell I'm supposed to do that? No clue. So, technically, I'm just along for the ride." She answered belligerently.

Though undeniably enjoying her closeness, he noticed the subdued-rabid expression on Bruce's face and turned to his equations. "Good to know that you're, and this is self-labelled, 'useless'."

"Never said I was 'useless'. I make a damn good blackberry tart."

"Really." Tony's tone was skeptical and rebellious.

"Yeah. Want proof?" Her creamy-smooth face was in a slight, hidden smile.

"JARVIS has all the ingredients ready," Tony was tapping away at his work.

"I'll be down in forty-five minutes to beat the crap out of your stubborn idiocy," she swore as she pushed the door open with her back.

"I'm sure."

The glass door gently shifted to a shut.

Just as Tony turned for a pithy comment to Bruce, the door flew open to reveal the pajama-clad Cambria once again. "I need a second person. To roll the dough."

Tony seamlessly volunteered "Bruce, you heard the woman."

"I'll... very much stay down here, thank you. I'm a mess in the kitchen."

"Come on. I'll finish your graph." When Bruce stared, flat and unmoved, Tony looked at him. "As a guest of this house, I feel obliged that you help the underaged and plain weird Project Manager in her ridiculous baking escapade."

The scientist cast a withering glance at the billionaire before moving towards Cambria.

Cambria was beginning to think she had overdone it with Tony. Maybe she shouldn't have moved flirtatiously closer to him- it was merely an experiment to see his attachment to Pepper.

So Iron Man truly had found his mistress. The tabloids were right.

She honestly didn't in the least need anybody's, least of all Bruce's help with baking. Her grandmother had, unfortunately, taught her to bake solo. She could do anything solo, everything solo- she preferred solo. But her job here was as analytical consultant-cum-counselor-cum-therapist, and she had seen analytical-cum-therapeutic promise in the activity and known Tony would default to sending Bruce with her.

Yet something was decidedly off with the diminutive man. He played with his hands and avoided her gaze whenever she spoke to him. Something had happened.

JARVIS had laid everything onto the cupboard with the correct measurements sitting in their cups.

"Hell," Cambria remarked. "There's half the work."

Bruce uttered a short laugh.

She glanced at him before stepping forward to "You know, these really aren't that great. At all. They sort of taste like sawdust sprinkled on a dried greenbean. We're probably just going to end up grabbing them at the store, because shit if Tony's going to one-up me."

"Oh, don't worry. I love sawdust." He still avoided eye contact, which bothered her to no end.

As she dumped the ingredients necessary in a large, shining metal bowl and started whipping up a storm, she retorted, "You can be the one that ends up getting shipped to the hospital for getting one lodged in your throat then."

"Sounds great. So... what did you say you needed help with?" He asked, wringing his hands. He was dressed in a majorly pilled, silky purple button-up; Cambria had noticed and surmised it was one of the few articles of clothing he owned.

She was gifted with a quick mind, prone to lying. "As my baking slave, you shall sprinkle powder in this pan and roll out this lump of crust until it's about an inch bigger than fitting inside. Capiche?"

"Capiche," Bruce echoed in response, slowly taking hold of the pan and peering inside. He held up the rolling pin.

"No, that is not a weapon," Cambria supplied helpfully.

"Yeah, thanks. I was planning on attacking you if you hadn't told me."

"I could tell, what with the whole teddy-bear vibe you got going on."

He looked down at himself, rocking back onto his heels before looking back up with shy, chocolate eyes. "Teddy-bear vibe? Ohoho, I don't think that really captures the essence of the other guy."

Despite herself, Cambria found herself with a real smile. Nothing forced, nothing planned. Just a spontaneous smile.

She turned and frowned to herself. Spontaneous smiling was unusual.

Ridding herself of the bother, she returned to her beating, the whisk whipping through the milky substance in the bowl with intensity. "Twenty-five percent of me thinks that we're going to get this recipe right."

"The other seventy-five percent?"

"Agrees that our chances of success are shot to hell."

He chuckled as he set the pan onto the counter opposite Cambria's, leaning his weight onto the rolling pin in an attempt to flatten the grainy hunk of crust. "The closest thing I've ever done to baking is living in a dessert shop out in Bangkok for a month or two."

"What, did they fry up the cockroaches? Coat 'em in caramel and call it good?"

He let out a dry laugh. "Close enough."

"I'm always close enough," Cambria gloated with a tone eerily reminsicent of Tony's. "Hey, you done with that yet, big guy?"

Oddly enough, Bruce found himself with warm cheeks when the nickname tumbled from her mouth- not that he romantically favored her. Last night was just an accidental paternal urge. Next time he'd let... someone else take care of that.

But no. Well, yes, she was undeniably cute with an attractive... physique, but he wasn't attracted to her. It'd just be stupid to be. It'd make no sense. It would never happen. Like with Betty.

Absent, he replied, "Ah, yes. Is it supposed to look like roadkill?"

Cambria was satisfied. The incident at the root of his previous nervousness had been forgotten, assuaged. Now, after the cooking, she would just need to peel away his psyche to reveal what it was that had caused it. She needed to stay distant and removed. "Shit, man. What the hell did you do to the dough? Unleash a rabid kitten on it?"

"And, what, you're contractually obliged to cuss seventeen times daily?" Bruce answered mildly, eyes wrinkled with a slight smile under permanently sympathetic brows.

"You counted."

"Subconsciously. It's a... little hard to miss."

Banner watched with vague interest as she pilchered the gleaming metallic pan from him, whirling around to whip open the fridge violently, shove it in, and slam it closed. "Maybe for a little Indo-virgin man like you. For me, cuss is a second language."

Cambria was testing the waters, so to speak. Pushing the borders. Seeing just how far she could make it, psychologically. Seeing what in particular bothered him- the Indo part bringing to his mind the horrors witnessed in Calcutta, while the virgin segment, naturally, stank of that Betty Ross.

She watched closely as he turned around, face carefully blank. "I think I prefer 'Mother Teresa' to 'Indo-virgin'," he said slowly, head tilted to the side.

Keeping in character, she disregarded the comment carelessly. "Oh, hell. Forgot to do that shitty custard-"

"Ah, JARVIS?" Bruce spoke quietly to the ceiling, bemused at the woman's antics.

"I'm on it, sir."

Unsure of what to do, Bruce nodded to the ceiling. "Um, thanks. And it'd be nice if you... didn't tell Tony-"

"I believe the Australians would say No worries, Dr. Banner. Ah, Miss Vale, I wouldn't recommend touching that. Mr. Stark can be extremely protective of his property."

Banner looked to see a gilded, thick sheet of paper locked in a glass case, Cambria hovering temptedly by it. "What, he'll kill me?" She snorted, peering closer at the words. "That'd get him some good publicity."

Frowning slightly, Bruce trotted swiftly down the majestic, swooping steps to inspect the certificate set eye-level into the wall. Tony, for all his grandiose, debonair arrogance, had mentioned nothing of any award.

In flowery, winding letters shining in burnt bronze, it read,

Presented to Anthony T. Stark on January 1st of this new year, the twelfth in our millenium, for his great work in and generosity to the nation of Ke'gu in the aftermath of a recent seismic disaster. The Annual Akilli Award is hereby granted to the-

Cambria briefly glanced up at him, which caused him to realize just the proximity of his body to hers. "Oh. Sorry." He hurriedly moved away, hands unintentionally starting on a strangling match.

For the first time, her showstopping, effulgent umber eyes cleared and he witnessed an endless well of veiled intelligence present in those roiling orbs as she took in his wringing hands before flicking up to his face. She looked at him with piercing yet quizzical curiosity, now completely void of the ignorant, humorous oblivion. She knew his secrets and could glimpse into the terrifying recesses of his mind.

But then the flash was gone and she was cynical and low again. "Alright, seriously- what did in hell's name did I do to you last night? Bang you?"

He didn't try to, but the words tumbled from his mouth in a husky, ridiculous phrase: "No, we just sort of... cuddled." His face was directed at the floor, but his eyes met hers.

She choked and let out a spluttering, "What the f*** have you been smok-"

"No, it's not - what it sounds like. You were screaming last night-"

"What the fu-"

"No, no. Oh, jeeziss, no, no, not like that; I mean, I woke up in the bedroom over because you were having a nightmare, so I... went in to try to maybe... calm you down, but you weren't stopping and you... looked like you needed to be... comforted, so... I did. Comfort you. Or try to. I mean, you were talking about your dad, and someone named Mitchell, and... being abandoned, so..." his voice lowered to an unintelligible, rough murmur.

Her face creased into a confused grimace.


Cambria listened, heart beginning to throb arrhythmatically, frantically, deep in her chest. She could literally feel her psyche beginning to slip, to plunge into... what?

She knew what it was. It was his voice, mellifluous and rich and dry and innocent, like Mitchell's, before he got his head blown off.

No. She wouldn't do this. Detached, detached, be f***ing detached, you shitfaced psycho!

I'm trying as hard as I f***ing can, idiot! Shut the hell up! Another part of her raged back.

Trying hard, my ass! I can feel the f***ing tears in our eyes!

Is it my fault we've had the shittiest life humanly possible?

Uh, it's your fault we're so f***-ed up!

No, talk to our subconscious about that, not me!

Oh, you're full of it.

Whatever. Just... he's going to say something! Witty comeback! Quick!

"Yeah, well, who hasn't had the shittiest childhood humanly possible?" Cambria's face unfroze, maybe just a little too jokingly.

"Cambria," for some reason, his voice made her spine tingle and she shivered. "You can't honestly think this is funny. I mean, you read my file..." his face twitched, "you know I had just a shining childhood, too."

Cambria considered this. Yes, she'd read his file backwards and forwards.

And her own life was ten times worse.

Her mind was racing for something quirky to say, but she was still reeling from the fact that he comforted her last night. That explained the awkwardness well enough, but revealed yet another facet of Bruce Banner's personality to analyze.

JARVIS' quaint, accented voice butted in. "I'm sorry to interrupt your tender moment, Miss Vale, but I've completed your tart. It is ready for inspection by Mr. Stark."

"Thanks, man." Cambria, glad of the distraction, bolted up the stairs to retrieve the admittedly beautiful dessert. She motioned violently and excitedly to Bruce. "Come, minion!"


This time, there was no scream.

No sob.

No wail.

Just one of the many images etched into her mind flashed into her dream:

A twisted body, gnarled from the current, perforated with twigs of assorted size, the blood slowly squeezing from the carcass. The skin, once majestically tanned with a tawny gleam, was leeched to a dusty violet, the eyes' beautiful color gone. They were bugging out in a cruel mockery, dead. Dead like the swollen, water-filled flesh. Dead like Cambria's soul.

"Miss?" The police officer's face was puffy, ghostly in the flashing lights of his parked car. He glanced at the card in his hand. "Is this your husband?"

She was silent, sinking to the ground, cradling he drowned man's bloated face. "Mitchell," she whispered raggedly.

"Miss, we need to know if this is your husband or your fiancée. Which one?" The puffy man was idiotically clumsy.

She glanced up at the sky, the starless sky, the velvet-black sky. Why?

"Jeeziss. What happened to 'im?" She heard an officer mutter.

"Guy was drunk, drove straight into the river. Pity he knocked over the guardrail: more construction work now. Ugh."

Cambria's forehead was on the ground, her lips moving in a fervent cadence. "No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no-no..."

She turned her head brokenly, eyes lingering on his thick, blue lips, then the stick impaled jokingly in his forearm. He was just a doll now. A fat, emotionless doll.


Cambria stifled the shriek as she shot awake, feeling desperately for someone. But no one was there.

Who would she even count on being there?

She realized it with a frown.



AWWW! She was expecting him but HE WASN'T THERE!

Anyway, what do you all think of this chapter? I just couldn't seem to get a handle on it; wasn't my favorite.

Eighty-point BONUS question: What are your opinions on the Bruce/Cambria?

Hundred-point BONUS question: Do you think Cambria should be rejecting Bruce, vice versa, or they're both yearning for each other and neither of them know it?

Million-point BONUS question: Should there be action/kidnapping in this fic, or should it just be exploring their relationship?

Yes, these points will culminate in something very special... so PLEASE! Review with your answers!