Part 4 -Hulk like Lucy
Minor spoilers for The Incredible Hulk (2008); The Avengers (2012); Alternative Universe for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle. Contains references to war crimes and uses period-appropriate terms for race.
Bruce isn't sure when he first notices the announcement. Later, he'll recognize that that's just how S.H.I.E.L.D. does things. He has to give them credit – it's hard to fool him and it all seemed so innocuous – no, it was innocuous, he never saw it coming.
Knowing what he does now, what he learned because of those notices, he would not have stopped it either and would not have done a thing differently.
There isn't much in Bella Coola, British Columbia, population 600, and there's even less in his remote cabin. He misses living on the grid and a lightning fast Internet connection. He misses Mythbusters and Top Chef, misses Reds baseball, and misses the Portuguese feijoada and the food trucks that would come to the bottling plant in Rochina. He misses being in a laboratory with bright students and brilliant post-docs, and colleagues with vacant looks, astounding ideas, and Tootsie Pops, and all the sonic screwdrivers in lab coat pockets. He misses clean rooms, bright lights, properly calibrated equipment, and safety goggles. On the other hand, in Bella Coola, there are no university administrators, pharmaceutical sales reps, and nosy oversight committees concerned about following rules for human subject research.
The isolation is good for keeping the Other Guy in check and keeping Them away from both of Them. He's not going to risk the conveniences that could come with a satellite phone given what could come to him from the other end. So Bruce contents himself with a relaxing 20 km roundtrip jog into town twice a week to pick up his mail – the Vancouver newspapers, physics journals, yoga magazines, Mother Jones, , Rolling Stone, and Bon Appétit.
Wedged between Applied Physics Today and the Journal of Spiritual Awakening he finds a flyer, This Month at the University of BC, Vancouver Campus.
Bruce turns the flyer over, and his eyes skip over the photography exhibit on carnivores, the Women in Microeconomics symposium, and the annual Robot Building Contest. He stops when he sees her, a fuzzy black and white photograph and bio blurb copied and pasted from the thousand that have preceded it. He recognizes her name in the vague way of colleagues discussing who did not earn Nobel Prizes that year and that Dr. Lucy Pevensie was always on a short list for Peace.
He didn't know she was so old.
Answering Your Call – How To Be Valiant In Every Day Life. Jointly sponsored by the Faculties of Arts and Medicine. Join world-renowned humanitarian Doctor Lucy Pevensie for an evening discussion about aiding the whole person. Dr. Pevensie comes to us having just returned from her work with a network of clinics in Rwanda and Zimbabwe providing HIV/AIDS treatment and support for women and children. Her special focus has been psychosocial counseling to populations traumatized by political violence and natural disasters. She is currently assisting local healthcare professionals in meeting the unique patient needs in India-administered Kashmir and vulnerable tsunami-affected communities in Aceh Province, Indonesia.
Doctor Pevensie with her brother Edmund Pevensie are noted also for their work investigating mass grave sites and disappearances, with significant work in Poland, Romania, Argentina, Chile, and Sri Lanka.
Bruce thought he tossed it in the trash but somehow the flyer gets wedged into the Mother Jones and he brings it home. Maybe there were two flyers.
He sees a poster at the grocery store four days later and there's an article about Doctor Pevensie in the Vancouver paper the day after that. It's not very well-written, obviously picked up from wire services and outdated Wikipedia entries, but even that makes for a compelling story. Doctor Pevensie has been walking the walk for a very long time. The article dates her political awakening to 1942 when she was making noise about the Holocaust before it was even called a Holocaust.
The weather is good (for British Columbia). Then he notices the price of gas falls. It's a long drive, but he's got his iPod – he rocks to the hard and sings off key to the rest. He has Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Book on Tape (though they aren't tapes anymore) and 12 hours in his hybrid isn't going to be a problem and he can even charge it up in Vancouver.
The Other Guy has to come along but he's not been out in 113 days, 14 hours, 42 minutes, 25 seconds. Bruce wishes more than anything he could leave him behind, but it doesn't work that way. On the safe side (and Bruce always plays it safe where the care and feeding of the Other Guy are concerned), he uses a pay phone (they are hard to find these days) and makes a reservation at a camp site on the Bay.
The drive is relaxing and he alternates between Glam Rock of the 70s (for the irony), Best of the 80s Top 40 (for the singing along) and classic rock which he thinks the Other Guy likes. They both seem to agree on Zeppelin, the Stones, and Pink Floyd ("all in all you're just another brick in the … SMASH"). Bruce remembers a vegetarian place near the university that does a great spicy mock duck. He's completely relaxed and the Other Guy isn't making any noise at all.
Again, later, Bruce will realize that S.H.I.E.L.D. is greasing his wheels and that's why there's no wait anywhere, no one speaks to him unless spoken to, and there's a free parking space a two block walk to the auditorium where Doctor Pevensie is speaking. Lucy will say that you don't have to like them to take advantage of what they offer, and so it is.
The auditorium isn't as crowded as he would have expected it to be and he takes a seat on the aisle, drinking in the pleasure of being in an academic environment again. Doctor Pevensie is walking up and down the aisles of the amphitheater, shaking hands and hugging people. The article made him think she was about 75, give or take. She's wearing khakis and rolled up sleeves, boots that have seen a lot of wear and a bright scarf of red and gold around her neck. Her face is lined and tanned and her gray hair close cropped but something really bright seems to shine from her. Everyone seems to follow her, in the way that moths are attracted to lights in the dark.
She turns around and Bruce has that sense she's looking for someone as she scans the filling auditorium.
Their eyes meet and hers widen. He freezes in his chair, feeling panic, worried for a moment that the Other Guy is surging out to take over. Then he thinks he's got it all wrong because he'd swear the Other Guy is smiling back, gap toothed and crookedly, at Doctor Lucy Pevensie. She strides up the aisle, taking two steps at a time, holding out a hand.
He doesn't want to take it, but she's already seized his and is pumping it.
"Thank you so much for coming," she says. "I'm Lucy, obviously."
"Bruce Banner," he manages.
"It is lovely to meet you, Bruce." She releases his hand, reaches out, and rests her palm on his chest. "And your friend?"
"He's…" He stammers and gulps. What just happened? "Not a friend." He stares down at her hand resting over his heart, wondering what he would see if he could see gamma radiation flowing from him to her over the bridge of her arm. "The Other Guy," he whispers. "Hulk."
"Well that does not do at all for me." She purses her lips in a frown. "You remind me a little of a Giant I once knew."
She's not talking to him, that is Bruce, but to the Other Guy locked inside him. Lucy rattles on. "He was prone to fits, which is certainly to be expected when one's understanding is not strong and everything moves far too fast to catch up and bad people are always trying to use you for their own corrupt purposes. He was a good friend to me. Might I call you Stormybuffin?"
Bruce doesn't say anything. Doctor Lucy Pevensie is obviously not sane on any parameter of the DSM and she's touching him as if they were old friends, and not only has she somehow seen the Hulk within him, she's naming him like a pet gerbil but who was a Giant? Except the Other Guy seems perfectly content with all this and Bruce senses that if he tried to sneak out now, the Other Guy would put up a fight.
Doctor Pevensie kisses him on the cheek. "You both will join me after? For prayer?"
And then she flits away.
He doesn't recall much of the talk. Doctor Pevensie doesn't speak in intellectual terms about data and facts, figures, budgets, fundraising goals, and costs of patented prescription drugs that are interfering with treatment options in the places she serves. She speaks of embracing and healing the whole person, and of security in mind and body being a fundamental human right. She tells stories. She makes people laugh. She makes them cry. She inspires.
There's wild applause and he tries to slink away but Doctor Pevensie gives a warm smile and a steely look and it's like demented love at first sight for the Other Guy.
Bruce tries to convince her that he should just go back to his reserved campground. He shouldn't let her link her arm in his and walk through the parks around the UBC campus. It's late, his car will be towed, mutant commandos will swoop in, someone will try to rob them and hell will open up.
"Lucy," she says firmly when he keeps calling her Doctor Pevensie. "Bruce, you must call me Lucy." She complains that it's too dark and late to go to Wreck Beach.
"That's the nude beach, Lucy," he replies laughing at her joke.
"I know! It would be marvelous, wouldn't it?"
So, not a joke. Given that the Other Guy will grow right out of and rip to pieces whatever clothes he's wearing, leaving him naked when he changes back, nudity is something Bruce has had to become more accustomed to – not a normal state for a physicist. Still, he can't comprehend going all natural with a 75 year old woman he met barely three hours ago.
At her hotel, he wants to take the stairs, not the elevator, to her suite. The Other Guy isn't good in small, closed in spaces.
"Oh nonsense!" Lucy says, tapping his chest again. "You'll be fine, won't you Stormybuffin?"
Bruce has to admit that he is fretting more than the Other Guy. At least they are only going to the third floor.
In her hotel room, Lucy tosses her backpack on a chair and flops down on the floor. Moving a little stiffly, she pulls off her boots and shoves them aside. "Sit!" she commands. "Wherever you like. You need to meditate and I need to pray. We'll talk after."
Lucy doesn't say another word for the next 45 minutes. He is rattled yet still rational enough to know meditation would help. With the strange environment and the unsettling person, he should be simmering with dangerous impatience. But it's quiet in the hotel room and Lucy is already leaning against the wall, eyes closed, murmuring to herself. What did housekeeping use to give the room the wonderful smell?
Bruce joins her on the floor, takes a deep breath, and begins his mantra.
It's so peaceful and he relaxes so quickly, Bruce nearly falls asleep. He rouses when he senses Lucy moving quietly about the room.
He lets out the breath, unfolds his legs, and stretches his neck. He feels great.
She hands him a glass of water and sets out bags of nuts and fruit on the floor that are from a local health food store. "I have some Pop Tarts," she says, sounding a little defensive. "Brown sugar cinnamon. I always take a trip south of the border when I'm in Canada and stock up."
"Thanks, but this is fine." Brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts are evidently a personal favorite of Lucy's, and he doesn't want to deplete her stash; he knows how he'd feel about sharing Tootsie Pops – the Other Guy always wants to crunch down to the chewy center right away so they are a good exercise in compromise and control.
"How did you know?" he asks.
"About Stormybuffin?" Lucy shrugs and sits again on the floor. "I spent ten years here with a spiritual guide, of sorts. I'm very intuitive. I've been a healer all my life. And I'm very familiar with that phenomenon of something that is larger on the inside than it appears from the outside. I see things others don't, Bruce."
"Things larger on the inside than on the outside violate the law of the conservation of mass," Bruce replies. He's never been able to figure out how the huge Other Guy comes out his small self. It shouldn't happen.
She laughs. "I suppose it is magic, then."
"There's nothing magical about the Other Guy," he replies bitterly. "He's a monster. It's very dangerous for anyone to be close to me, including you."
"That's not what Aslan just told me," Lucy says. She slowly unwinds the bright scarf around her neck and Bruce sees it had red and gold lions on it. Lucy sets it reverently aside and pops almonds in her mouth.
"Who is Aslan?" Bruce asks sharply. Is it an acronym for something he needs to run from? Should he start running now?
"I call him Aslan. I'm not sure what you call him."
"When did you talk to him?" She'd not made any phone calls. He'd not seen anyone suspicious approach her.
"Aslan and I talked while I was praying."
"Aslan is in your head?" Now Bruce wonders, not about government conspiracies and super soldiers, but about dissociative personality disorders and schizophrenia. Except Lucy seems to be one of the saner people he has ever met.
"Of a sort, yes. As I said, I don't know what you call him and he has many names in many worlds. I met him first as Aslan and that is who he will always be to me." The cellophane package holding the dried nuts and fruit makes a crackling sound as she digs into it. "I appreciate your worry, Bruce, and I thank you for it. However, I have nothing to fear from you or Stormybuffin. When Aslan calls me home, it shall not be at your hand."
She offers him some grapes. The brown paper they were wrapped in has turned soggy but the fruit is very sweet tasting.
Was Lucy talking about God? Or a god? He doesn't know what to make of it. The only god Bruce knows is the ridiculously-named god particle that Higgs proposed in 1964 and he feels a brief pang for the prospect of working at CERN with brilliant colleagues on world-changing revelations of science instead of meditating in the wild with only the Other Guy for company.
"Aslan has told you when you will die?" If Aslan could tell him how to kill the monster within and die, Bruce would have Lucy Pevensie baptize him into her religion right there in room 343 of the Sheraton suites.
"When my work is done, I shall die, and not before," Lucy says with great confidence. "As my work is not done, I shall not be dying today or anytime soon. Which brings me to you. I want you to come with me."
"Well anywhere is a start, but how about Kolkata. I'm affiliated with a clinic there. Wonderful staff. They need another doctor."
"I thought you meant out to dinner or to Wrecks Beach?!"
"Well, maybe them, too. But Kolkata." Lucy pauses, looks a little vacant. Bruce wonders if Aslan, whoever Aslan is, it talking to her
"Yes," Lucy says, sounding decided. "Kolkata."
"Me?" he squeaks, now seeing she's wholly serious. "Pack up and go? India? Just like that? To Kolkata?"
"Yes! It would be so good for you, to be helping people. You've been a hermit long enough and you and Stormybuffin have things under control. The nurses at the clinic are lovely and are completely overwhelmed. The needs are so great, HIV/AIDS, TB, parasitic infection, cholera. There is so much you could do there."
He wonders where she fits on the DSM – probably some sort of delusional disorder not otherwise specified. "Lucy, me and the Other Guy in a crowded, urban, Indian city could not be good for anyone. I should not be seeking out things that make me angry."
Lucy snorts. "Oh Bruce, I do hate to quote trite American bumper stickers, but if you aren't angry at what has been done to our world and the poorest, most vulnerable people in it, you haven't been paying attention."
"You don't want to make me angry," Bruce repeats. "That's when the Other Guy comes out."
"I don't doubt that, Bruce. But you and Stormybuffin would benefit from learning how anger is not always the enemy. It can also be a powerful motivator. I am angry all the time."
"It's different, Lucy. The last time I was truly angry, the Other Guy and I broke part of New York City."
"In a place like Kolkata, you won't let that happen."
He has no idea where her confidence comes from. "How can you know that?" he demands.
"Bruce, in Kolkata, you will be among people who have far more reason to be angry than you do. I think a place like that is perfect because you and Stormybuffin know that if you lose control, you will hurt the people you are trying to help and destroy whatever little they do have."
She leans back, looking satisfied, certain she's carried the argument. "Yes, I think Kolkata is perfect. Good yoga instruction, too."
Bruce feels the anger rise up, but it's his own, not that of the Other Guy. Lucy shifts, digs into her pocket, and pulls out that very old fashioned British thing known as a handkerchief. She presses it into his hands.
"Don't worry, it's clean," she says. "I gave one to a very good, respectable Giant I knew a long time ago. I'd like you and Stormybuffin to have one, too." She sniffs and looks sad. Neither Bruce nor the Other Guy wants to see Lucy sad.
He stares at the delicate little white square and imagines it torn to bits in a big, green hand. "Lucy, there are some very important people who are very interested in me, and if they can't control me, they would certainly try to kill me."
She shakes her head. "As I see it, it is good if they are afraid of you. We'll sail right through airport security."
"ParYou are willing to travel with me and the Other Guy in a pressurized cabin at 30,000 feet?"
"That means the flight will be on time! They will probably upgrade us to first class!"
Bruce learns that in the abused, poor, and exploited places in the world, Lucy Pevensie is angry all the time. Sometimes, that isn't a bad thing.
Thanks again to Intrikate88 for the prompt and to Snacky for the beta and be sure to check out the other great stories in the Narnia Fic Exchange!